Skateable Art Is Not a Crime
For decades skateboarders have been ticketed or arrested for street skating, but the city of Seattle is changing that. By creating 26 pieces of skateable art in the city where people can skate without fear of being Maced or thrown into a cop car.
C.J. Rench's studio. Photo via Aaron Rogosin / Red Bull Content Pool.
Despite every effort to package skateboarding into a stadium setting so non-skateboarders can watch the captive monkeys perform neat tricks, one thing remains undeniable: skateboarding's growth lies in the streets. From the Swatch Impact Tours of the 80s to Street League and the impending addition of skating to the Olympics, the masses have always been served up a fantasy version of skateboarding involving rules, uniforms, and point values—but that's all a load of bullshit. There are two things that lead a kid to skateboarding. A.) It's an individualist activity without rules or judges or teammates, and B.) it's very accessible. If you have a paved slab, a painted curb, a ledge... hell, even a slanted tree trunk—you have a skate spot. Kids in Sao Paolo and Pakistan aren't gravitating toward skating because they have an ideal, million-dollar Street League course. It's the architectural landscape that the majority of the world takes for granted, like handicap ramps with waist-high bars at the end, handrails, stairs, banks, etc.
Unfortunately, ever since skaters left the pools of the 70s and the backyard ramps of the 80s there has been a cop with a badge and inferiority complex ticketing, arresting, and even beating skateboarders for enjoying the urban sprawl that most could care less about.
Luckily there are progressive cities in the US, like Seattle, that realize their baseball and football fields sit unused the majority of the year while the skateparks are packed, ass to elbow, and most streets are filled with the sweet theme song of rolling urethane. They also realize that as fun as some skateparks might be, skateboarders will never be caged beasts—they must be allowed to roam free like the Jackal on the plains of Africa. And so the Emerald City has commissioned 26 sculptures to be peppered around the city with a utilitarian design geared toward skateboarding.
To help usher in the first of Seattle's skateable structures, Red Bull (who, it should be acknowledged, keeps one foot in the "stadium setting" type of skateboarding mentioned above and one in the core, underground scene) stepped up and created the "Red Bull Skate Space" project soliciting over 40 submissions from sculptors around the Pacific Northwest to come up with a suitable concept for the city. The winner was Oregon seasoned artist/former snowboarder C.J. Rench. He partnered up with Plan B pro Torey Pudwill to construct the 23-foot tall skate spot that will be placed in Seattle's Jefferson Park this October.
To get a better feel of the project and just how the piece can be skated I spoke with CJ and about the project.
C.J. Rench. Photo via Aaron Rogosin / Red Bull Content Pool
VICE: Coming from a snowboard background, had you ever put any thought into the plight of skateboarders and their difficulties with the law?
C.J.: Not with skating, but I started snowboarding in 1984 and had to ride with mountain managers before they'd even let me get on the chairlift, to prove to them that I could control the board I was on. So I understand that plight a little bit, but unfortunately skateboarders have it rougher because they're already mainstream and are still fighting that battle. When we were talking to the Seattle Parks and Rec there were some people in the audience who were convinced that all the city's tagging was from skateboarders. I said to them, "I'm not a skateboarder anymore, but I can tell you that half the tags I see at your park right now are gang tags. Those are not skateboarder tags." Skateboarders are definitely fighting a bad image and I'm hoping that doing this project will break down some of those barriers and open a whole new movement for public art where people will be stoked that they get a cool piece of art to enjoy while skaters get to skate it."
Had you ever sculpted anything with this type of use in mind?
No. It's ironic because I just did another presentation for another town and they were asking me, "How do we keep people from climbing it and tagging it?"
Do you work with different materials or reinforce the sculpture differently when you know it's going to take a beating from skaters?
Without getting super technical, we are building this thing out of materials that are twice as thick as the stuff we normally build with. I guarantee it will be engineered for much heavier use than what would be required for Seattle.
Talk me through the specs of the piece and how you can skate it. The model in the photo is pretty small scale and it's hard to tell what you'll be able to actually hit.
We're building it to scale so that people can literally skate within the sculpture. The entire thing will stand 23 feet high. Surrounding the sculpture there will be three to five elements that are specifically designed by Torey and myself that are also totally skateable. The two big Cs on either end are 15 feet tall and wide and big enough that you'll be able to skate through them. There's a half circle underneath that's four feet tall, and you'll be able skate through that, too. There's also going to be a ramp on the side of it so you can jump through one of those Cs or slide or grind the ledge part of the Cs. The inside of those Cs are roughly five feet wide so you can skate the transition.
Do you think something like this could catch fire and inspire other cities to do the same sort of thing?
That's my hope. Once the people in Seattle saw the pictures of the sculpture they were super excited. The issue of tagging was not even discussed anymore. If that's any indication of what we can do for perception by combining art and action sports I truly believe this could be a whole new movement for public art. People are throwing a fortune at skateparks, which are great, but this is the same thing but adds something the rest of the community can enjoy.
VICE: How did you get involved with this Skate Space idea?
Torey: Red Bull approached me with the idea and I was stoked on the opportunity to be able to do something new and different. It's me working with CJ making it possible. The idea behind it is to build an art piece as well as a skateable attraction that you could bring your family to and play on these things like little slides. From the skater's eye it's an amazing skate spot, and from the norm's eye it's a cool place that you'd want to hang out at and bring in the good vibes and soak up some sun.
How important is it for municipalities to start creating spots where kids are free to skate out in the streets?
I think something like this is really important because it's allowing people to see things the way skaters see them, which is a whole different outlook than what they see watching contests or at a skatepark. This is real deal street stuff. I think it's cool to bring that attention to street skating. Also, leaving stuff like this in cities will bring a lot of growth to skateboarding.
It's almost 2014. Do you think it's ridiculous that grown men, some of whom are making a lot of money, are still getting chased by police and arrested or ticketed for skating?
Yeah, it sucks. That's not good. We don't want that. It's not cool to have to know how to deal with police. You go around to skate and you're worried if you're going to have a run-in with the authorities and hoping that they're cool and see that you're just skateboarding and not doing anything illegal. Hopefully that will ease up as time goes on and police will see that skateboarding is keeping kids away from trouble and violence. Stuff like this Red Bull Skate Space will help. You can build many, many skateparks all over the country and the world but as skating grows and kids see it for what it really is... you can't keep us out of the streets. So I think it's good to have a legal skate spot and at the same time do something good for the city by leaving them a great piece of art. I'm honored to be a part of this and have my name on that plaque with CJ Rench, knowing that we helped the Seattle skate scene and hopefully start a new trend in legal skate spots across the country.
Previously - Ed Templeton's Huntington Beach
For more on Red Bull Skate Space visit redbull.com/skatespace
You can see more of CJ Rench's work at cjrdesignstudio.com
Follow Torey on Twitter @ToreyPudwill1