Video and text by James Morley.
The ideals of modernization and utopia that were influential in the design of present day urban space have changed our experience of the city environment. Excessive imagery, visually stimulating architecture, and emphasis on the automobile and the construction of roads have all ultimately reduced inter-human experience and managed to separate us from one another. Along with the colonization of suburbs, these factors have resulted in a change in the goals of city space. The city is no longer a place for life and interaction, but instead, a home for capitalism and commercial gain. Thus, space is designed in order to stimulate its occupants so that they will move through it rather than linger in it.
When insurance rates applying to skateboard parks peaked in the 1980’s, resulting in major closures around the United States, skateboarding took to the streets and began defying these ideas. The skateboarder’s instinct is to appropriate and consume space rather than produce a product within it. By attempting different maneuvers in the urban environment, the skateboarder performs a critique of architecture. They discover, test, and defy the limitations inherent in spatial design. Through this alternative interpretation of architecture, the skateboarder identifies with space in what Guy Debord describes as the ‘Derive’; an aimless wandering through the urban environment where the absence of a specific destination allows the experience to remap space based on emotion rather than a visual representation of the area. As the practice of skateboarding goes against the commercial goals in place in urban space, authorities have successfully committed acts of gentrification to prohibit skateboarding. Through the use of surveillance and architectural modifications, skateboarding has been removed from a significant portion of urban space.
‘Artifacts of Exclusion’ assesses the practice of gentrification as it has applied to street skateboarding since the 1980’s and questions the ideal use of space. It focuses on a succession of urban plazas that have acted as havens for the progression of skateboarding as both a sport and culture. ‘Artifacts of Exclusion’ presents a series of still and moving videos that explore and move through San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza, Philadelphia’s John F Kennedy Plaza, and Los Angeles’ Wilshire Park Place. These videos are presented in a multi-channel installation along with a realistic soundscape representing each environment. The installation mimics surveillance in the viewing of these spaces in their present state. Representational content from commercial skateboarding films spanning the duration of the time period in question is overlaid, providing a contrast between the past versions of these spaces with the architectural modifications that have changed them. This imagery depicts skateboarders doing tricks around the spaces in question, manipulating what Iain Borden refers to as their ‘body space’; the space occupied by and manipulated by the skateboarder’s body, and its resultant relationship to the universe. As this imagery appears and moves around the stereo installation, it reunites the skateboarder’s ‘body space’ with its original environment, while simultaneously creating a new three-dimensional space between the screens.