Born as a solution for surfers without waves, it has become an Olympic sport and now the board with wheels has become the art subject of the Triennale Milano.
We have a chat about it with its ideologist Roberto D’Agostino
Article written by Stefania Parmeggiani, from La Repubblica of January the 29th 2020
Asphalt, dust and cement. A lot of cement. And then I saw them, with grazed knees, broken ribs, cracked teeth and without it really mattering, because the pain comes afterwards. Initially the only thoughts are about challenging space and time, gaining speed, following the dream of an evolution without thinking about the consequences. Skate has always been like this, since the ‘50s when a surfer with withdrawal symptoms decided to throw himself onto a sea of cement. Squares, parking lots, benches, urban skeletons, and then in the ‘70s also in empty pools, dry from the draught. Perfect waves made out of cement that travelled through generations, until today in Tokyo: the 2020 Olympics.
The journey through what for decades has been considered a lifestyle rather than a sport, is going to be celebrated at the Triennale Milano with an immersion into the skate culture, form the streets to the museums, in several acts. Firstly, there is going to be an installation “OooOoO” by the Korean artist Koo Jeong A in a large multi-sensorial skate part that opened at the end of November, where anyone can perform, whilst being accompanied by electronic music by Koreless, a Glaswegian producer. Then there will be daytime and evening events that showcase the fashion, cinema, graphics, architecture, urbanism, music and sports of the skaters’ universe and their creative pulse.
Amongst these there will be “Tracks on the pavement”, by Roberto D’Agostino, journalist and expert of underground cultures, that uses cinematography, photography, videos and artists palettes to tell the story of both the Dogtown revolution, a degraded neighbourhood between Santa Monica and Venice, and of the teenagers of Rome and Milan that every day attack pavements, steps, railings, abandoned building sites and ramps between road junctions.
“Skating is not born from a need to be rebellious, but rather from a innate need for human proximity, friendship, fraternity and solidarity”, explains D’Agostino, who will inaugurate the exhibition on the 31st of January with a reading that delves deep into the heart of skate culture: “into that nest of emotions thrown without care on the streets, not as a stance against authority, but rather in order to grow up without running away from pain, to ride it, to see where it will take you”. Skating is a dimension where there are no tutors or teachers, but only friends, companions that meet up and contribute to the creation of an identity. And to think that it began as an “entertainment for unlikely acrobats”, as a form of training on wheels that was meant to keep busy surfers with withdrawal symptoms on those days with no waves, when the ocean was handing out neither waves nor emotions. “The turning point – remembers D’Agostino – came in 1975 when drought left Los Angeles high and dry, and a statement from the mayor told the city about the water ban: no watering the gardens for a whole summer, and tens of thousands of pools were left dry, but not empty. Those voids, so smooth and parabolic, were perfect for the most daring evolutions”. These were the days of the Z-Boys, surfers come skaters that illegally crept into the villas of the rich, taking over their pools and entire roads, turning the pavements into kingdoms with highly subversive rules: “No competitions and no uniform, nobody won and nobody was a winner. Skate has the opposite ethic, underground, and highly anti-sport and anti-authority, it exists juxtaposed to social conventions”. A sentence from Dogtwon and Z-boys – the cult film documentary narrated by Sean Penn, which will be screened together with the Paranoid Park by Gus Van Sant and Kids by Larry Clark – perfectly summarises this rebel soul which has become culture: “surf made skate’s rules… skate changed life’s rules”.
In Los Angeles, in the slums of New York, in Europe and even in Italy: “in 1977 Odeon, an entertainment show with facts around the world, covers skating: streets and pavements are invaded by young and enthusiastic people; a success that was followed by many accidents”. Alarm bells go off. In Genova, Italy, it becomes forbidden to ride a skateboard. Other cities follow suit and by the beginning of 1978 skating was banned all over the country.
“As always – carries on D’Agostino – prohibition fuels desire, so the teenagers carried on surfing cement in the shadows, by night, as far away as possible from big lights and indiscreet eyes. Until the Nineties when we see the first structures dedicated to the sport, such as the Elbo skatepark in Bologna”.
It is not long before the Coni (Italian National Sports Federation) recognises it as a sports category, and this year for the first time we will see the best skaters of the world battle it out in Tokyo. Its Italian evolution is told in the exhibition by a selection of photos by Paolo Cenciarelli, which depict the Roman scene from an urban and architectural perspective, and through a series of skateboards designed by Simone El Rana. An artist whose trademark is an ex-voto and an explosion of shapes: from skulls to religious images, typical of the tattoo world. And not only: two videos created for the Triennale by D’Agostino with a montage of the photographer Pierluigi Amato, will roll over the Nineties up until now. “They are amateur videos, often rough, taken by the skaters to document their ballets of audacity and precision, of progress and failures”. Videos from when skating was a weird thing, thought of as a sanctuary for scoundrels or misfits, and films from today, the days when it has become training for gold medals at the Olympics and a museum artefact.
D’Agostino warns: “Careful with words, those who skate do not like the connotations of passive forms. They feel at the centre of the story, whether it is a success or a failure, a jump or a fall”. Rough and cocky, far away from games of power and control, restless subjects of an exhibition that becomes a metaphor for life: when you fall you have no choice, you have to get up.
A lectio at the Triennale
Running at the same time as the installation OooOoO – the skatepark put together by the Korean artist Koo Jeng A – is a project curated by Julie Peyton-Jones and Lorenza Baroncelli. On the 31st January at 18.30 the Triennale Milano presents the lectio by Roberto D’Agostino, entitled “Tracks on the pavement”. Introduced by Stefano Boeri, president of the Triennale Milano, and with contributions from Paolo Cenciarelli, photographer, Simone El Rana, artist, Paulo Lucas von Vacano, publisher at DRAGO.