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Skate pontio RESIDENCY

Pontio article

I was the artist in residence at Pontio arts space in Bangor [august 2021], briefed with delivering a community event about the local skate scene and making work in response to the event/cultural significance of skateboarding worldwide

I co-created the event with Pontio and the local skate community, celebrating this creative and active pursuit. Local skaters created areas to experiment and perform in the Ponito loading bay, and young people had the opportunity to try out skateboarding for the first time.

After the event I created a large window drawing, curated the photography of others which documented this community event and worked with Dafydd from Ffoto Nant to produce a film which could be shared more widely.

The exhibition was held on the lower ground gallery space, exploring other aspects of skateboarding culture locally and globally, as well as documenting the Skate event day.

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.