St. John's skaters ride The Rooms
Boarder X launches residency with a halfpipe and a room full of skateboards
St. John's skateboarders were able to pull off some tricks inside one of the province's most iconic buildings over the weekend, as the Boarder X exhibit stomped its landing at The Rooms.
The contemporary art installation launched with a few days of skateboarding, music and food — and a custom-built halfpipe for anyone to skate.
There were also pros there to teach up-and-coming skaters the ways of the ramp.
But while the ramp was taken apart and towed away after the weekend's launch party, the not-so-typical exhibit will stay at Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial archive and museum until early January.
"I often joke, if I was a curator at 13 I would've done this show," said Jaimie Isaac, curator at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. "So I'm still thinking about these things, and I'm passionate about it."
Isaac's idea began with a first installation in Winnipeg in 2016. St. John's is the fourth stop on a tour of Canada, after shows at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, and the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton. It will finish up at the Nanaimo Art Gallery in British Columbia.
The exhibit features pieces from Indigenous artists across the country who skateboard, snowboard and surf, and demonstrates the connected relationships they have with the landscapes around them.
That idea is reflected in the exhibit's name, Boarder X, which looks at the intersection of art, life and the artists' culture, said Isaac, who is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation.
The title alludes to snowboard cross, a competition that features multiple riders. As well, the X points to an intersection of knowledge and experiences.
"It was so fun to research Indigenous artists who either snowboard, skateboard or surfed — some in the show do it all — and to have conversations with them about our connected relationships between Indigenous culture, boarding and art," Isaac said.
Boarder X features 11 artists, all of whom have contributed pieces as varying as the individuals themselves. Three of the artists are from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Mark Igloliorte, who grew up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, said he would often visit coastal Labrador with his father, who is from Hopedale.
"Having Inuit heritage and then coming here with some work around the Inuit vessel, the kayak, it means a lot to me," said Igloliorte, who was in St. John's for the launch, and spent some time riding, grinding and flipping on the halfpipe.
Now living in British Columbia, Igloliorte spent his high school years in Corner Brook where he said he met and bonded with his best friends over skateboarding.
That's where Igloliorte, along with his high school crew, learned their chops on the board, he said.
His work in Boarder X represents both his life as a skateboarder and his roots in Labrador, with videos of skate tricks and kayak flips.
"So although they come from pretty different worlds, like the skateboard comes from California, but the kayak comes from the Arctic, particular to this province from Nunatsiavut," Igloliorte said.
A new audience
The weekend's festivities brought some new faces to The Rooms, something Darryn Doull, the museum's curator of Canadian art, noticed almost immediately.
"There's an initial conception of skateboarding and skateboarders, of working outside of the rules, making their own rules and maybe breaking things along the way," he said.
"And that's all part of that, but I think if you look beyond that, the really amazing thing is the extremely close community of support that exists within skateboarding. That is very rare to find anywhere else."
On Saturday's sessions inside the building, skaters of all levels took to the top of the ramp to drop in in front of an onlooking crowd.
Some stood atop the ramp for the very first time, and took their first falls and slams while visitors cheered from outside of a barricade keeping bodies and skateboards contained to a bright, naturally lit corner overlooking St. John's, on The Rooms' second floor.
"It was just this weird thing that seemed to go through the air, and all of a sudden we were all there cheering them on and watching them succeed," Doull said.
"And that was like a transformative moment in their life, that they have now dropped into a halfpipe for the first time and it happened here. Just being a part of that is something that you can't anticipate," he said.
"It's so incredible and I'm at a sort of loss for words."
As for Isaac, as a curator herself, she said it's an important practice to involve different pockets of society within art exhibits where, in turn, it becomes a first-time trip to an art gallery for some.
She thinks there's work to be done after the exhibition ships out toward its next stop, in a different gallery, to keep those newcomers coming back.
"At almost every place where Boarder X has been I've overheard people say, 'This is the first time that I've been to this place and I've lived here all my life.' So that in itself is what is inclusive," she said.
"And you hope that past the exhibition itself those relationships will be maintained and sustained in terms of ongoing presence."