A key component of the Skateboard Amenities Strategy is art. All of the skateparks planned in the strategy will be public spaces and successful public spaces often incorporate art.
Eric & Mia are the artists who were selected by a panel as part of the city’s Public Art Program. They’ve been a team for over seven years and their work has appeared all over North America as well as Europe. Learn more about them here and by reading this short interview we conducted with them:
Is art needed at skateparks? Have you seen any skatepark art or skateboard-related art that inspires you?
Depends on the art! Let’s be honest, skateparks (and cities in general) can probably survive without another mural by a public artist and some kids from a community that depicts “skateboarding”. You know what we are talking about! It is a bit of a sassy answer, but it is true; skateparks don’t need another mural. And we are very skeptical of sanctioned graffiti even when it does look amazing. We know that there are a lot of skateparks with sculptures that can be skated and these sculptures can be pretty sweet. It is not only a visual art piece, but an odd piece of terrain. But for us the role of public art is to both celebrate and ask hard questions of a specific site and the people that use that site. This is especially true of temporary public art, which we make.
We aren’t skaters (though Eric was when he was younger), but when we travel to other cities we always try to visit some skateparks or watch people skating in the city. We love it. The concrete is really a blank canvas and the skaters are like living, moving sculptures. We haven’t been to Merida, Spain, but there is a park there called Merida Factory Youth Movement. We came across it a few years ago in a magazine or book or something and have been obsessed with it ever since. The design is crazy and it provides a social space for youth. That is the kind of art we like. Art that makes spaces for people to be in the city together.
Now all of that said, we are really drawn to the DIY ethic and aesthetic of early skate culture. We share this with skaters. We might not be as punk as some DIY folk, but we are no less invested in these processes– it is often where our work starts from.
Why do you think art and skateboarding go along so well together?
There is the obvious answer, that skateboarding isn’t just skating, it is a culture. Out of its early counter culture roots skateboarding was and continues to be defined by strong visual elements, we know this. Visual art, photography, video, graffiti, etc. are inherent to skateboarding. Skaters are creative people and art is one way of expressing the identities of individuals within the scene and of skateboarding itself.
But we are performance artists, so we look at skateboarding from another angle. Yes, we love the visual elements, but we are also interested in the behaviours and movements of skaters. That means the tricks, the way skaters use and misuse the city, and how they engage with each other. Put another way, we think about skateboarding as being performance. The movements of skaters, the tricks that they do, and how they ride are, for instance, a form of “dance”–they are kin(a)esthetic. Most skaters will probably hate being called dancers, we’re sure! But it is a metaphor; we aren’t talking about tutus and ballet and things that happen in theatres. We’re talking about performance that is experimental and improvised, performance that happens outside of traditional spaces, performance that re-imagines how we relate to the city and authority, and performances that happen in the everyday. The movements and strategies that skaters create so that they can engage and navigate the city (and people in the city) are a form of choreography. And these movements—- both physical and cultural—- are beautiful to watch! Maybe skateboarding is more like guerrilla theatre? Anyhow, this is only the beginning of thinking about skating as performance, we could go on forever about it. Maybe thinking about how skateboarding is a performance in everyday life is some high level stuff to talk about, but for us it is fascinating and we think most skaters know what we are talking about.
To answer your question more directly: skateboarding is art!
What do you have in store for the new skateparks?
We can’t release exactly what we are doing for the skateparks yet, because there is a larger process that we are working through right now to have our projects approved. But we can give you some hints.
Often times when people think of public art, they think about murals or sculptures (or blue rings…has anybody from the community tried to skate that thing yet? Get on it!). But that isn’t what we do. Instead our work is all about social engagement. If some artists use paint as their medium, we work with people and places and relationships. So hint one: no murals, no sculptures!
We asked ourselves a question at the outset of the creative process: what does a citizen skater look and act like in Calgary? We spent a lot of time talking to different people from the skate community, the City, and the neighbourhoods where the parks are going to be located. We were really inspired by meeting so many different people over the past year. The projects we are proposing came out of these meetings and respond directly to the needs of each group. We have to tell you that we were really surprised by the things that came out of each camp—they were basically all the same concerns, but from different angles. Skaters, community associations, the City, and the park designers were all concerned about who was going to monitor the parks and how this is going to be done; each group wants there to be a broad base of users; and there is a desire to know and explain who the park users are going to be.
We are proposing three different projects that address these points. Our work always encourages people to participate in some form or fashion and that is true with these projects as well. There will be one project that asks the skate community to work with us on introducing as many skaters as possible to the residents of neighbourhoods where the parks are located. A second project looks at how we can get more women skateboarding in Calgary. And the third considers what a relationship between the police, skaters, and the skateparks can look like. They are all super playful projects that bring together different people to consider the skateparks. We are planting seeds that will take time to grow.
Have you done anything like this in the past?
Yes and no. We have been making temporary public art together for some time now, but no one creative process or project is ever the same. Most of the projects we have created respond to a specific issue or location, but are shorter term. They are quick interventions in to the city that last a few hours to a couple of weeks. The projects we are proposing for the skateparks follows in this tradition, but has required a much larger process of initial engagement. What is also different this time around, is the scope of the project. We are dealing with eight neighbourhoods and the skate community. It is a lot of “ground” to cover, a lot of people to work with, and so many different agendas to consider. With the help of the different communities involved we have identified some concerns and are proposing projects to address these concerns in a playful, but consequential manner. This process and these projects are challenging us as artists. A lot of growth is happening for us right now and we are excited.
What artists influence you?
This is a tricky question, because although we know about a lot of different artists, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them. If we had to pick our top three artistic influences though, they would be Miranda July, Augusto Boal, and Sonia Delaunay. But most of the people that influence us are not artists. They are Mia’s grandma, Eric’s grandma, and Eric’s great aunt. We’ve written about the role of these women in our lives in other places. These women have really shaped our thinking. They have strong politics or ways of living in the world that are inspiring to us. Our pals matter a lot too. None of our artist friends make work that looks like anybody else’s, but it is the camaraderie we have with these rad dudes that influence how we work and interact with people when doing social engagement projects. We also read a lot of books about cities, cultural geography, ethnography, and performance.
What other projects are you working on?
We are taking a project called Hunter, Gatherer, Purveyor to Toronto in June as part of the Luminato Festival. Basically we walk around three different neighbourhoods for a couple of weeks and collect weeds, flowers, roots, and bark from the plants that we find. We use the vegetation to flavour popsicles. The argument we are making is that you can taste the difference between communities: what does a rich community taste like v.s. a working class neighbourhood. We love this project because we get to talk to so many different people, to explore communities, to feel uncomfortable, trespass in peoples yards, and generally ask hard questions about a city and its geography.
When can Calgary skateboarders expect to see your work at the skateparks?