Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2016 (269 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I don’t do crowds and I avoid openings, but as photos from the launch of Boarder X started blowing up my Instagram last Friday night, I realized I was missing something special.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s (WAG) grand Tyndall stone lobby had been remade into a fully functional skate park, for one. On opening night, regular gallery-goers rubbed elbows with a crew of young skateboarders who sailed up a full-scale half-pipe and grinded down the edge of a plywood model of the WAG itself.
By the time I made it down this past Sunday, a reverential hush had been restored, but the mood of the place was utterly transformed. The brightly painted floor panels by artist and muralist Kenneth Lavallee were streaked and worn; skid marks darkened the roofline of the miniature museum; and a sign had been installed warning visitors off the half-pipe, but the sense that the gallery had been reclaimed — for new purposes and new audiences — remained thrillingly intact.
Organized by Jaimie Isaac, the WAG’s Curatorial Resident for Indigenous and Contemporary Art, Boarder X maps the intersections of surf, skate, kayak and snowboard culture, visual art, indigenous knowledge and indigenous sovereignty. Viewers might be surprised at just how numerous and productive those intersections are, but they shouldn’t be.
Board sports have strong ties to the worlds of street art, design and fashion, and the show’s seven artists draw on these connections in varied ways. Les Ramsay’s patchwork canvas and found-fabric collages achieve a sun-bleached, weather-worn, vintage vibe, while titles like Goofy Foot (meaning "left-footed") are lifted from skater jargon.
The graffiti-inflected styling of Roger Crait’s massive, multi-panel Babble on Babylon, Babel On reflects a manic, irreverent esthetic forged in dialogue with the urban landscape. Steven Thomas Davies reworks his own vernacular skateboarding videos from the 1990s into an impressionistic silent film, Driftin.
Artist-made and -embellished boards draw parallels between DIY making and hacking and traditional knowledge. Jordan Bennett, a Mi’Kmaw and Ktaqmkuk artist from Newfoundland, recounts family history in delicate scrimshaw on the back of a wooden longboard, while Mark Igloliorte decks his own deck out with a stylized grip-tape kayak.
Igloliorte, who is Inuit and from Labrador, ironically only began learning to kayak after moving to Vancouver. Videos of the artist trying to master an "Eskimo roll" and a skateboard flip before assembled onlookers highlight the performative, practice-based nature of both sports, as well as the unpredictable course of cultural exchange.
Mason Mashon, meanwhile, snaps the perfect photo of a friend poised at the top of an epic mountain run, the artist’s hand-carved cedar "powder surfboard" in hand.
Meghann O’Brien weaves her own response to this landscape in her finely crafted Sky Blanket, which hangs amid snowball-like Clouds of balled white wool.
Curator Isaac grew up skateboarding herself, and she draws on these formative experiences, showing how board culture can provide both a mirror of and a refuge for suppressed forms of indigenous community and knowledge. In Boarder X, skating seems less a metaphor for decolonization than its ground-level implementation.
Skaters and surfers read the landscape, whether natural or man-made, converse with it and seek out fleeting opportunities not bounded by constraints of authority and ownership. Like the sports themselves, Boarder X is fun; it’s accessible, and it holds out undeniable, revolutionary potential.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.