Is HELL ON WHEELS a show about iconography and a generation connection by icons? That’s what I’m saying…and I’ll say it again toward the bottom:
The Artists Lofts in downtown Lancaster has a show going on now, Hell On Wheels, and it’s all about skateboarding.
But what is skateboarding all about?
I ask this question for a few reasons, one of which is the idea that there is (potentially) something vital missing from the conversation on the arts in the Antelope Valley – actual conversation about the intentions, meanings, and significance of the art(s) in our community.
Another reason I ask the question “What is skateboarding about” comes directly from this show, which presents art on, literally on, skateboards. There are a few canvases too, and I have a piece in this show on cardboard.
Despite the outliers, this show attempts to put a particular culture or cultural figure at the front. That figure and culture has everything to do with the SKATEBOARD, a mode of transportation, a sport vehicle, an cultural identifier, almost an identity in itself.
There are tendencies and some amount of shared style across the pieces in this show, but…not as much as I would have expected had I stopped to make a prediction before going to the show.
The art in the show is not unified, not uniform.
Some of the questions that I was left with, standing inside the show, meandering from board to board:
- What do the people behind these boards have in common, as artists, or just a social, cultural beings?
- Is there such a thing as a Skate Culture today? Was there ever?
There is enough variety at this show to make me wonder about the coherence of such a skate culture. But I fully admit that I’m an outsider. I don’t skate. I never have. I always left that stuff to my brother.
Questioning the potential existence of a so-called skate culture is, maybe, beside the point anyway. This gallery show is a continuation of the Artists Lofts trend toward presenting something of an urban vibe in downtown Lancaster.
The colors are bright. The art is balanced between expressive and decorative, between a tattoo style and what I would call fine art. (Not to separate tattoos from fine art entirely, but there is a general distinction, I think, which is essentially the difference between drawing and creating figure, depth, and IDEA. Tattoos are rarely about ideas, as far as I can tell.)
Maybe we should talk more about tattoos and how they seem to mark an entire generation, both literally and symbolically, but let’s not talk about that right now. Hell On Wheels does bring up generational questions, for me, and those questions can include a discussion of tattoos, skateboarding, and the shift in the meaning of the term “urban”.
That’s the nature of my personal experience of this show. S0mehow it’s urban. But it’s not urban like Banksy. It’s not social commentary in the way street art is directly meant to be.
Hell On Wheels is urban in the way that it is all about making a personal statement, however implicit or non-verbal this statement may be.
Skateboarding and skateboards seem to be more about doing what you want to do, not talking about it.
If I say that this show, Hell On Wheels, is somehow saying that a generation unified by icons and iconography is gaining capital in the American cultural economy, I’m am probably taking a position that offers a lot to disagree with.
For the sake of conversation, I’m putting the idea out there because…I’m just trying to hear what this show is saying. I’m trying to understand Hell On Wheels as part of a conversation.
Hopefully, we can get a few more people to lend us their views on this show too and really get some kind of conversation going.
3 thoughts on “Hell On Wheels: Artists Lofts Galley Show”
When I first moved to California—that land of sunshine and beach front property, or so I thought of it as a child—the first thing that I realized was that I needed to learn how to skateboard. It was everywhere and it was simply part of the landscape and culture of this place. My first skateboard was one of those lime green plastic “Banana Boards” that a friend loaned me. Of course it didn’t take long for me to discover that wheels and I aren’t made for each other. My brother, however, was a natural from the start. I pretended to help him and his friends build homemade ramps from scrap wood or I would “borrow” his “Thrasher” magazines so I could look at my first crush Christian Hosoi. Skateboarding was simply part of life in California.
As a co-curator of the “Hell on Wheels” show, my interests in skateboarding have altered from schoolgirl crushes and California dreams, to questions that have informed my artistic and cultural interests for many years. So what is skateboarding all about? For me it involves expressions of architecture and the body, subcultural identity, influences such as Dada, the Situationists, Punk, and street art that continues today. Rather than simply accept cities as they are skateboarders create their own space, their own cities, their own architecture, their own expressive form. Downtown revitalization should be so jealous because to a skateboarder the city is always being revitalized each time as Guy Debord’s definition of dérive begins and the skater maps a new unique path rather than what has been preplanned by agents of control. Skating is freedom of becoming—it is public art, and life as an art form.
The “Hell on Wheels” show interjects local history into this conversation with 30 years of AV skate culture on view with the documentary film “Sierra Highway: A Skateboard Retrospective,” The Scab Machine deck by Jojo Ackermann which uncovers the DIY graphics, music and symbolism that connected AV subculture in the late 90s to early 2000s, or Billy Runaway’s photographs of skate pools from 1977 mirrored in Kevin Coffey’s current images of well known locations that fuels the next wave of skate legend all the while as the Rx collective explodes in the alleyway with music, street furniture and parkour. Like Duchamp’s “ready mades” the manufactured object or repurposed skateboard becomes a form of a visual symbolic representation of connected form, but the individualistic expression of identity or misuse of form or symbolism is simply the sum of its parts represented by each artist’s vision.
In “Subculture the Meaning of Style,” Dick Hebdige explores the slippery nature of culture/subculture “Style in subculture is, then, pregnant with significance. Its transformations go ‘against nature,’ interrupting the process of ‘normalization.’ As such they are gestures, movements towards a speech which offends the ‘silent majority,’ which challenges the principle of unity and cohesion, which contradicts the myth of consensus. Our task becomes, like Barthes’ to discern the hidden messages inscribed in code on the glossy surfaces of style, to trace them out as ‘maps of meaning’ which obscurely re-present the very contradictions they are designed to resolve or conceal.” (p. 18) I could say the same of being a curator or an artist or an artist curator or as someone who is always becoming–fragmented, pieced and re-pieced.
So what is skateboarding all about?
Perhaps as Johnny Rotten said in reference to punk harmonics, “We’re into chaos not music.”
Or, maybe we’re just bored in this city.
Wonderful show!! I realized this is hell on wheels a show. This show all about skateboarding theme. I think someone like it. Thanks.
Larissa, you gotta way with words, girl.
As a kid, skateboarding wasn’t just the best excuse to leave the house, it represented music and other arts. Some of my favorite skaters like Steve Caballero were also in bands and hilarious skate films they’d make themselves. They spoke with actions, not with words – which appealed to the ‘dumb kid’ in me who had trouble with human languages. New ideas from all fronts would appear and disappear quickly, just like in street art, and was both mentally and physically inspiring.
Going to the skate shops and seeing all the new offerings got me into crafting my own ideas, and have been doing so relentlessly ever since. Now with the Internet providing an infinite amount ideas to rip off, picking up a skateboard sounds like a better excuse more now than ever as there’s not an infinite amount of time to craft them perfectly.
Life inspiring art inspiring life, I guess!