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Photographs by Stewart Mackellar

link to process video

Skate pontio RESIDENCY

Text from Pontio article (below)

On August 31st 2021, Pontio hosted an event celebrating skateboarding in their loading bay. Local skaters created areas to experiment and perform in the space, and young people had the opportunity to try out skateboarding for the first time.

In reflection and celebration of this community event, and through exploring other aspects of skateboarding culture locally and globally, Jess Balla has been creating work and curating the work of others to exhibit in the lower ground gallery space as part of an artist residency. 

The large scale illustration on the windows is a synthesis of Jess’ feelings, ideas and interpretations of the project Amongst the piece is an attempt to highlight some of the moments from the Pontio Skate day -paying homage to the skateboarders, photographers and artists that collectively created and documented the event through their artistry and attentiveness. We are a world brought closer together through technology and a global language of imagery: The mobile phone and billboard act as vehicles for the beautiful photographs so that the images remain in the viewer’s mind beyond the familiar scroll of social media. Photographs are displayed on both sides of the window in order to make the exhibition more inclusive and reach those who may not want to come inside.

A short documentary film of the skate day created by Dafydd will be on display as well as a skate video by local skateboarder Yannick.  Decorating the gallery walls are a couple of imprints created by the skaters, several pages from a local skateboarding Zine by Aled Oddy, as well as a collection of drawings and quotes created by people on the Skate workshop day at Pontio.

Exhibition contributors:

The skateboarders – their time, energy and commitment 

Jess Balla @ballawaves – artist in residence, window drawing and curation of space

Manon Awst @manon_awst – curator/coordinator

Stewart MacKellar @stewmackellarphoto – photographs within ‘billboard’ and ‘mobile phone’ window display

Jordan Phoenix @jardanphoenix – photographs within ‘mobile phone’ window display

Aled Oddy – Sglef’ skateboarding zine pages

Dafydd Owen @ffotonant –  a short documentary of pontio Skate day on large screen

Yannick Hammer @blank_echo –  film on small screen

Max Ansell – loan of skateboards in glass cabinet

Young people – drawings

Jess’ drawing process for Pontio SKATE project

A starting point for Jess during this residency was looking at defensive architecture, measures such as ‘skatestoppers’ which aim to deter skaters from skating in certain areas, and a fascination around how our actions and movements within urban space are shaped by architects. However, skaters are innovative, determined and courageous – any hostile environment can be read as a challenge, not a deterrent, and they will find new imaginative ways of moving through spaces. Their interpretation and expression of the world is constantly evolving in a physical realm merging into a landscape of possibilities.

Through her drawing, Jess questions if we can preserve spaces for skating and open conversations around use of space, including asking if we can value skateboarding as being a creative expression of the community?  Can we create skateable cities here in North Wales such as Malmö have done in Sweden?  Can it be a cultural form that is appreciated and celebrated here?  

The adoption of skateboarding at the Olympics has made people more tolerant, aware and even excited about skateboarding, but whilst some are winning medals and securing sponsorship and endorsements, there will always be different branches and more contested access points. A point of facintation for Jess has been projects such as Skateistan, a skating and educational project set up in Kabul, Afghanistan, which teaches children from all socio-economic backgrounds to skateboard, 40% of whom are girls. There are now Skateistan projects on several continents.

Fundamentally, skateboarding is a creative journey on a plank of wood and four wheels, cutting through social classes and carving new horizons. It is an act of courage and play that naturally amplifies self expression and generates a very special, inclusive and intergenerational space. It is primal, instinctive and embodied practice – a culture that brings awareness and respect of the body. Jess speculates that perhaps this is why broken bones and skulls have been so visually represented by the skateboarding industry – the risks are real and painful, but the opportunities are rewarding, open and abundant.

Jess has been surrounded by skateboard and BMX culture all her life, and has a strong connection to freestyle sports – including a deep love of surfing. Recognising the parallels of how these shape a way of life, her lived experiences and understandings are visually translated into the lines, curves and pathways that you see. They are the exploration of movement, the waves, the fluid motions possible on a board – a world of dreams and magic, transforming and taking you to exciting places; an adventure with no cash required – just imagination.