Arts·Q&A

Thanks to this Nuit Blanche art installation, you can finally skateboard in Yonge-Dundas Square

The fun doesn't end when the sun comes up. Saputiit - Fish Weir Skating Plaza is open to the public through Oct. 6.

Artist Mark Igloliorte: 'My first impulse was like, I’d like to design a skateboard plaza!'

Screen shot of a 3D AR fish floating in a video still of a skateboard on pavement.
Mark Igloliorte. Saputiit – Fish Weir Skate Plaza, 2022. (City of Toronto)

It's one of the most exciting projects appearing at Nuit Blanche Toronto, and that's especially true if you plan on wandering the city by skateboard. Starting Saturday at 7 p.m., the "no skateboarding" rules no longer apply in Yonge-Dundas Square — at least not where you'll find Saputiit - Fish Weir Skating Plaza, a fully skateable art installation from Inuit artist Mark Igloliorte

If you've got a board, you're 100 per cent welcome to skate on this art. A bunch of local pros will be doing it too; watch for demonstrations in the space during Nuit. And after sunrise, the skating plaza will stay open to the public. 

Skateboarders are welcome at Saputiit through Thursday, Oct. 6, and there'll even be workshops happening there throughout the week, hosted by local groups including Nations Skate Youth and Queer Skate Toronto (full schedule TBA).

It's not the only project Igloliorte has at this year's Nuit. Down at the Harbourfront Centre, he's part of a 360-degree video installation called Arctic XR. (His contribution happens to feature four Indigenous skateboarders.) 

But the day before Saputiit's ramps and quarter pipes, etc. came off the delivery truck, Igloliorte spoke to CBC Arts about what he's doing at Yonge-Dundas Square. Here's some of that conversation.

What can you tell me about the skatepark you're building for Nuit Blanche?

It's based on designs that I made months ago of something similar to an Inuit fish weir.

OK, so I know even less about fishing than I do about skateboarding. What's a fishing weir?

(Laughs) Well, they can be made with different materials. I don't know if you've had time to listen to [the Nuit Blanche podcast], but Toronto is sometimes translated into something like pieces of wood, and then that's related to wood in the river, and that's related to a fish weir as well. 

But for Inuit, the weir was in a shallow river when the fish would be doing their spawning run. What they would do is create, like, a corral of rocks, and that corral could be something that the fish could be guided into so that they would be concentrated inside of a pool. 

Is there a traditional shape that it takes? Is that what the park is mimicking?

Yeah, exactly. What I did as part of the research is look at different fish weirs in art works — like Inuit prints — and based the park design on that. It's kind of like a bag shape.

To make the skateboard plaza, I was thinking about influencing the movement of the skaters and how a fish weir similarly influences movement in a low-lying river — so a community of people could be out together and harvesting fish together. 

So in terms of what's going to be happening on Saturday, is this a functioning skatepark or what do you picture will happen on the square? 

Yeah. In part, it's based on doing a research trip to Paris and going to Republic Plaza [Place de la République], which is right in the middle of Paris. And they have skateboarding and pedestrians in the same space. 

I wanted to kind of think about having a downtown location and then having the excitement of all the billboards and traffic and people around at the same time. I wanted to do something very central.

What if you don't skateboard? How do you imagine people engaging with the scene?

Well, one of the really cool things that we're doing with augmented reality is that there's going to be QR codes up, and with those codes, people can activate a school of augmented-reality [Arctic] char to show up on their phones. With that augmented reality, you can see the fish kind of swimming around at knee height and even get skateboard clips — like, record skateboarders moving around through the weir with the fish interacting with them as well.

Photo of the Place de la Republique, a large public square in Paris. It's filled with skateboarders and spectators.
Skateboarders attend a skate contest at the Place de la Republique in Paris on June 16, 2018. (Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images)

We're going to have the hashtag #ARChar and we're hoping people will share those videos on social media. That could be another space for people to experience the project.

The culture of skateboarding, it's very much around video-ing skateboard clips as part of the experience.

Are you going to be skateboarding as well?

Oh yeah. I was looking at the images of the plaza, and I was getting really excited to skateboard it. I can't wait for the install to be complete.

Am I right to think that people aren't typically allowed to skate at Yonge-Dundas Square?

No! When I was here for a research trip, like months before, I went there just to try out the space, and it only lasted a few minutes. There's a security guard booth. And, you know, security certainly has quite a presence at Yonge and Dundas.

So this is going to be an exceptional experience for the skateboarders of the city to be able to skate at Yonge and Dundas for Nuit Blanche, and it's up until Thursday the following week. 

Photo of a busy downtown street at night. Electric billboards are filled with geometric designs in black, white and red.
Digital art by Johnson Witehira will also appear at Yonge-Dundas Square for Nuit Blanche Toronto. Witehira's work will light up billboards around the intersection. (City of Toronto)

Skateboarding is a subject you go back to often. Why has it been an effective way for you to make art and tell stories?

One of the things that I really appreciate about skateboarding is that it's an activity that brings a lot of different people together. We're partnering with Queer Skate Toronto, Oldowan Blackboard skateboard company — it's a Canadian Black-owned skateboard company — and two different skateboard training companies that are owned by people of colour. One of them is female-owned. And we're also working with Aunty Skates, a certified TikTok star with over 155,000 followers who's an East Indian Toronto resident who's a skateboarding mother. 

There's an incredible diversity in the community of skateboarders. I think it's really cool that so many different people can come together sharing experiences, sharing a passion for an activity, and making space for one another. 

What is your experience with skateboarding? Are you familiar with it at all?

Well, like I said at the top, I know less about fishing than I know about skateboarding. I don't know a lot about it! (laughs) When I was a kid, and I would have been in school in the '90s, it was very much an activity the boys did. One thing that's interesting to see when I go back to the suburb where my parents live, there are lots of little girls who are on the street doing it.

Yeah. I know, it's phenomenal. Like, I've definitely been at skatepark sessions where the women or non-males have outnumbered the males and it's really cool — and also to see there's a lot of trans skaters. 

There's always been a diversity of skateboarders, I've felt. But to see it embraced by even more people and then — say, like, Aunty Skates and myself — older people are staying with it and still being part of the community and being active. It's something I just love being a part of.

One of the things that I really appreciate about skateboarding is that it's an activity that brings a lot of different people together.- Mark Igloliorte, artist

As an artist, to be given an opportunity like Nuit Blanche, my first impulse was like, "I'd like to design a skateboard plaza!"

In other cities — like, I've lived in Vancouver; I did this research in Paris — I've been struck at how each city has its own kind of relationship to skateboarding. It's like there's different levels of encouragement for skateboarders in urban spaces, and I've never felt that skateboarding was so encouraged in Toronto. One of the things that I'm hoping to do with this project is that the city will see the possibilities of having skateboarding be something that's part of the urban experience. It's something that can be integrated in the urban experience.

What gave you that impression of Toronto?

Oh, if you go, say, anywhere in the downtown banking district, there are "no skateboarding" signs on every building. You know? It's interesting. I find that skateboarding has a kind of urban awareness in that you'll see the word skateboarding all throughout the downtown, it's just like prefaced by "no." (laughs) So for me, to have a place where you're permitted to skateboard is super exciting — and especially right in the downtown core, right at Yonge and Dundas Square. 

One of the things that I think a lot of skateboarders are familiar with is interacting with people in the public. You're outside doing an activity and people are curious about it. And that opens up a lot of different dialogues, you know?

Having more urban spaces that are welcoming to skateboarding will open up more interactions between people and it will also share what's awesome about skateboarding with people in the city. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Nuit Blanche. Various locations, Toronto. Oct. 1. 7 p.m. to sunrise. www.toronto.ca/nbto

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.

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