Larissa Nickel on “Hell On Wheels”

Larissa Nickel, artist and organizer, posted this as a comment to Eric’s post on the Artist’s Lofts Hell On Wheels 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.


2 thoughts on “Larissa Nickel on “Hell On Wheels”

  1. I LOVED this show!
    Yes, here in the desert or the flat lands of the San Fernando Valley skateboards, skateboards RULED! However, where I grew up, it was all steep hills and very little flat land. Soooo, guess what? I would lay down with my stomach on the little bitty skateboards we had ( way before the sophisticated ones came out) and would FLY down the hills. I’m talking hills with a 45 to nearly 80 degree angles! Of course, we would have to walk back up the hills, again and again. Helmet protection was unheard of. Talk about having fun with skateboards!!

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