Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Street Dreams


     Regardless of the number and quality of skate parks available, skateboarders have a compelling need to skate the street: to jump stairs and fire hydrants, slide down handrails, assail monuments, grind ledges, and ride walls. This has sparked ongoing confrontations between skaters and authorities: security guards, home owners, police officers, and council members. What underlies this obsession with the ‘street’? Here are several possible clues:

1. Availability: It may be suggested that travelling to a skate park takes time and one may not even be available in some places or at certain times, such as at nights. The streets, however, are readily available. 

     2. Incidentally: Many skaters, especially those that don’t yet drive, use their skateboard for transport and typically have their boards with them much of the time. If they are already skating, surely they will use the obstacles that come their way to perform tricks on and have some fun.
 However, though these first two explanations may be real reasons why people sometimes street skate, they fail to explain why skateboarders will leave a skate park in order to skate a street spot. The following explanations attempt to address this.
3. ‘Stolen water tastes sweeter’: The Talmud explains that people tend to have exciting pleasure when they benefit from things normally prohibited to them. Skateboarding a set of stairs in a shopping complex may therefore be more exciting than skateboarding the same sort of stairs at a skate park.  

     4. Novelty:Skate parks are limited in the challenges and obstacles they offer. The street however, has relatively limitless opportunities for novelty, experimentation, and adventure.

        5. Conquest: Many skateboarders are also graffiti writers/artists or associate with people so inclined. ‘Writers’, as they are called, are obsessed with spreading their name – ‘tag’ – throughout the graffiti world; they seek recognition and reputation. They also feel that they conquer and take ownership of a place simply by labeling it with their signature or artwork.

Many skateboarders have a similar attitude in the sphere of skateboarding. By skating all sorts of difficult street spots around his city, a skater may feel that other skaters who arrive at that spot will recall how he did such and such a ‘gnarly’ trick there. He leaves his invisible artwork for passersby to appreciate him by. Alternatively, he may feel as though he partly ‘owns’ the place that he skated, after all, he did conquer it.      

     6.  Living out of the box:  There is a very special feeling when one can view and utilize objects in unconventional ways. That is, in a way that they were not intended to be used by their inventors. It’s as if one becomes a co-creator by reinterpreting the object. Thus, when Marcel Duchamp entered a urinal in an art exhibition (which he called ‘Fountain’) he did not create anything new but merely re-framed a mundane object. Yet, this was deemed artistic and opened people’s eyes to the beauty inherent even in the basest of objects.

Along these lines, skaters have incredible pleasure in perceiving and revealing the artistic potential that otherwise lies hidden within banal street objects.  

7.  Being real:All people, whether conscious of it or not, have a need to enter the arena of the ‘real world’ and thrive there; to confront reality as it is, without escaping into the comforts of fiction and fantasy. In this way, one validates himself as being real. When skating in a skate park, a skater feels that he is escaping from the real world, entering into a space which is designed for skateboarding, where the ramps, ledges, handrails, stairs, etc, are not real but artificial and simulated – in a sense, fictional. The stairs don’t really lead anywhere, one walks up them in order to jump down them. The hand rail is not for holding onto when using stairs, it was made for grinding and boardsliding.
As long as a skater feels he is not skating in the real world, he feels he is escaping from it and thus not being real. This is why many skaters see the skate park as a preparation for street skating: for them, it amounts to flying lessons on a simulator in preparation for actual flight.            

Viv and Yuta shredding Prahran

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Dance, Acrobatics, and skateboarding

 Art is expressed through various mediums: sculpting, painting, dance, music, and so forth. These can be organized on a concrete - dynamic continuum. In sculpting, one makes a solid and rigid figure. Painting may produce a fixed piece, but it offers increased fluidity, motion, and freedom of expression. Dance involves dynamic movements in the flux of time. Still, they are the movements of a physical body in space. By contrast, music is the most transcendental, energetic, and intangible of the arts. Out of the mentioned mainstream categories of art, I believe skateboarding most strongly resembles dance.

     Firstly, though the exact nature between dance and music is controversial - some maintain that dance is a bodily manifestation of music, (as some dancers exclaim, ‘I do not dance to music; I become music’), while others hold that music merely helps coordinate dance – dance is almost always accompanied by music, and more so, is typically synchronized with it. In contrast, skateboarding, as acrobatics, is usually unaccompanied by formal music altogether.                                                                                                                 
    Another central feature of both dance and acrobatics that distinguishes them from ordinary human movement is the precarious positions assumed by performers in relation to gravity. For instance, dancers raise their legs to awkward angles, fall forward or backward, spin or rotate in the air, or simply assume awkward foot stances. The magic is that they maintain perfect balance and grace. In contrast, in ordinary human movement, people attempt to maintain the most stable and safe postures possible, in particular, those requiring least effort to maintain.   
               Acrobatics, however, goes further in the degree of instability that it expresses. Typically, the acrobat is performing movements which so significantly defy gravity that danger of physical injury is constant. Hence, whereas spectators hold their breath while watching acrobats perform somersaults and mid air rotations of sorts, and feel relieved when the acrobat safely completes his routine, spectators of dance typically lack such fearfulness. Skateboarding, like acrobatics, has a considerably higher level of instability and danger relative to dance.