John D. Freyer is an associate professor of Cross Disciplinary Media in the Department of Photography + Film. His projects include All My Life for Sale, Big Boy, Live IKEA, Free Ice Water, and Free Hot Coffee. Freyer’s practice engages accidental audiences in galleries, museums, and public spaces. He explores the role of everyday, personal objects in our lives – as commodities, fetishes, and totems and investigates how the circulation of objects and stories enrich social ties between individuals and groups. He earned his B.A. from Hamilton College and M.A. & M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. His work has been reviewed in The New Yorker, The Sunday London Times, Artforum, Print Magazine and NBC’s The Today Show. Freyer is a Fulbright Scholar, a Macdowell Colony Fellow and was an Artist in Residence at Light Work and the Fannon Center, Doha, Qatar. Freyer has brought his social practice projects – Free Ice Water and Free Hot Coffee to the TEDx stage, has exhibited at Mixed Greens Gallery in New York, the Liverpool Biennial Fringe in Liverpool, UK and was a 2018 Tate Exchange Associate at Tate Modern, London.
For the last several years, Photography + Film associate professor John Freyer and members of Rams in Recovery, VCU’s collegiate recovery program, have been riding around campus on a custom-built cherry-red bicycle, outfitted with a pour-over coffee maker. In the five minutes it takes them to brew a cup of coffee, they share their experiences with addiction in hopes of helping others better understand substance use and recovery.
Last fall, Rams in Recovery and the city of Richmond received an AmeriCorps grant to jointly address issues related to the opioid crisis. That’s when Freyer and other members saw an opportunity to use that same five minutes to train people to use naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose.
“Whenever we would bring the coffee bike to a naloxone training, it created a natural bridge, a natural break,” Freyer says. “It gave people enough time to, while they’re waiting, get trained on naloxone.”
Freyer says naloxone is a classic harm reduction strategy for preventing deaths among people who are at risk of overdosing. Putting naloxone in the hands of first responders is an obvious step, but Freyer says the real impact is when friends and family members are trained to use the life-saving medication.
Members of Rams in Recovery have trained and distributed doses to more than 1,000 VCU students, faculty and staff members. But communities across the city were harder to reach. So, Freyer designed a new bike: this time a teal electric-assist bicycle equipped with a lockbox, table and a CPR mannequin.
“It’s a beautiful object. Like the coffee bike, it commands a certain level of attention,” he says. “Whenever I ride it, people ask, ‘What is naloxone?’ It creates space for conversation, but the purpose of that conversation is to do the training.”
Freyer is also part of a new statewide grant from the governor’s office to bring his recovery-related social practice art projects—including the Free Naloxone Bike—to eight Virginia universities as they develop and broaden their on-campus recovery communities.
While the impact of Free Naloxone Bike is real and tangible, it marks a firm deviation from Freyer’s initial social practice projects, where he served glasses of water and hosted community meals in hopes of sparking organic conversation about addiction and recovery. In this latest iteration, community outreach and advocacy is the work.
“It’s important to break bread together, and it’s important to be in conversation together,” he says. “But having people leave with the ability to save a life—to me, in some ways, that was the missing piece.”
The Real Photo Show – Ep. 112 – April 2, 2020 / REAL PHOTO SHOW