Chain Reaction

MSU Denver Alumna Carolina Fontoura Alzaga creates an international art career from salvaged bike parts.

By Doug McPherson

Publish Date: September 4, 2013


Carolina Fontoura Alzaga (B.F.A. painting and digital art ’07) makes
art out of bike parts including chains, wheels and pedals.

You could say that Carolina Fontoura Alzaga (B.F.A. painting and digital art ’07) owes her career to an uncanny ability to find the positive in the negative, to find the built in the deconstructed.

“Creativity is … a reflection of the artist and what that person values and deems important,” says Fontoura Alzaga, a Los Angeles-based artist who’s enjoying worldwide praise for her work in a decidedly atypical medium.

The medium? Bike parts — chains, wheels, pedals and the like. When you learn why she chose bike parts, you understand her artistic vision.

“My art is a direct reflection of me. One of my values is to find beauty and value in all people. I also like to find alternative uses for things, especially things that might be undervalued and underappreciated.”

If she ever felt her work was undervalued or underappreciated, she has no reason to anymore. Her career is now in the fast lane. She’s been featured in 24 magazines from 12 countries and 30 online publications.

So how did she end up turning bike parts — especially chains — into moving art? Think of it as a kind of chain reaction.

The first link: A bike was her sole mode of transportation while attending MSU Denver. “I’d ride five or six blocks from my home at 11th Avenue and Lipan Street to my classes,” she says.

The next link is about political statements. “During a lot of my time at MSU Denver the U.S. was at war in Iraq, so biking was my way to make a statement.”

And the final connection? That home at 11th and Lipan was a warehouse/apartment she shared with 11 roommates who were also “bike punks.” In the kitchen was a makeshift pots-and-pans holder made from a bike wheel. She admired it regularly.

Then one day in 2004 it occurred to her to make a chandelier with bike parts.

She gave it a shot and even liked it, but it wasn't what she wanted. Her next attempt was for her B.F.A. thesis when she made a more “proper, traditional form,” a 5-foot chandelier made from bike rims, chains and freewheels.

Her career gained momentum after graduation. Fontoura Alzaga headed to Mexico (she was born in Mexico City), where an art gallery owner gave her a solo show in 2009. The exhibition was so well received that Fontoura Alzaga was covered by popular Mexican magazines and blogs. Then people began approaching her for commissions.

Four years later she’s pondering her career and her new “CONNECT” series from her home in Los Angeles.

“The series is a direct reflection of my social, political, environmental and aesthetic preoccupations. On a very fundamental level I approach life from the belief that the neglected, whether it be people or things, should not be automatically dismissed as undeserving. Even the most damaged object, seemingly beyond repair, has the ability to become something else if approached with compassion and broad-scoped imagination,” she says. “It is from this point of departure that the metaphor of making something elegant and beautiful out of such a base material has been an invaluable reminder to use the negative as fodder for the positive.”