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Young Creatives Blog

Katie McAllister: Art & Motion

Thursday 25 February 2016

  • Review

Art & Motion, was just a title in my calendar – an event that I hadn’t given much thought to.  When I arrived at the Astor Theatre, I asked the other Young Creatives, ‘Um, what are we actually seeing?’  I didn’t know if this was a film or a piece of theatre or a dance or a conversation or someone literally carving it up (is that a skating term?) on stage. 

Skating for me has always been on the periphery.  When I was young, we would inevitably drive past skate parks on the way to netball or on the way to town or somewhere and I thought skaters always looked so aimless. Skaters were people who needed to wash their hair, pull their pants up, who lived in Avril Lavigne songs and needed to go somewhere, or at least look like they were going somewhere – pretend to be busy like the rest of us.

I had little to no expectations for this event.  That is, until Wendy Martin, Artistic Director, who somehow seems to be at every PIAF event ever, opened the evening. Because the PIAF events I had seen so far had been seriously brilliant, inspiring and challenging, and Martin had been at all of them, I very much felt a correlation between Martin and the shows.  When she started to talk about her huge involvement in the Albany Skate Run, I felt like I had somehow stumbled on a goldmine – my true loves were combined in one auditorium; Albany, community events, culture and an English accent. 

Martin spoke about how she wanted to bring everyday art or street culture to the Festival.  After a series of very fortunate conversations between people who were passionate about skating and the arts, she discovered the Albany Snake Run: the oldest community funded skate park in the world.  She said now that everyone has a phone in their pocket, they are all film makers and when anyone has a skate board, they are all dancers.  Filming skating is an art form, equivalent to some of our most prized paintings.   Russ Howell, then, is the skating equivalent to Monet. 

Howell has more skating awards to his names than he can do 360s on a skateboard, and he currently holds the record for 360s on a skateboard. He pioneered his sport at a time many people wouldn’t accept skating as legitimate.  He changed the perception around skating and was one of the first famous skaters to come to Albany’s Snake Run. He couldn’t stop talking about the beauty of the community in building the Snake Run, in how a small group of passionate skaters raised the funds necessary to get the project going and their love of the sport saw it through.  

I didn’t expect to walk into the Astor Theatre and have all the confusing shows I had seen, these highbrow artistic extravaganzas, explained to me by a skater.  Howell looked so happy to be there, talking about what he loved.  He told us that everyone is an artist and art is how we express ourselves. He told us never to waste an opportunity to tell someone important to us that we love them. He told us to always look for the fun in everything – whether that is building a giant hamster wheel in your backyard or showing younger skaters up as an ‘old man’.  He told us that once we have found what we love doing, we need to give back to our communities – none of this talking about what the community owes us,  he said, we have life, so we better get busy giving back. He said that art needs to be seen to be appreciated, ‘The shortest pencil is always better than the longest story.’   We need to share what we love and what we are passionate about, with others. 

I didn’t expect to have some of my biggest questions about art answered in that session. I have always wondered the point of creating things just for the sake of it, because it is fun? Because we can make a philosophical point so much better by sculpting it and then writing a Latin Poem about it? To appreciate art, I feel like you need to understand the rules and the conventions of the art form you are enjoying. I find it hard to appreciate paintings, because I don’t understand what is happening technically and I find it hard to appreciate dance because I have to look at other people clapping along to a song to make sure I am in time. So I have always wondered whether I am the only one who feels art can be exclusionary – tutoring students who think poetry is ‘boring’ and ‘dumb’ makes me think probably not. But if you don’t understand poetic conventions first, you can’t appreciate the brilliance of E. E. Cummings.

I clearly didn’t understand the work and precision that goes into skating.  To me, skating, like poetry to some of my year eight students, was boring.  But to Howell and his crew (is that a skating term?) it was how they understood themselves and the world. 

These world truths that Howells was expressing had been made into complex theatre pieces, dance routines, paintings and musicals.  But they had also been realised while Howell was skating at skate parks, with his friends.  The tribute they made to these ideas wasn’t traditionally an artistic one; it was a fun, everyday one. The conversations that great pieces of art try to begin were happening on the half pipe. The beauty of an art form was captured in the practice and precision of the tricks performed by Howell and his friends.  Because, as Howell kept saying, ‘It was just so much fun’.

I love debating. Many people also think that debating is boring, but it has helped me understand my world and my place in it. I never thought I would find parallels between debating and skating – but for the Albany Debating Competition this year, I am wondering if we can have a round at the Snake Run.  To give the debaters a bit of hope that the craft they are learning might not be the most widely recognised, but neither was skating. Now, it is a world-renowned sport and making appearances in international arts festivals.

I had so much fun listening to Howell. His enthusiasm and passion for the sport made me want to buy a skate board. When I told my friends this, they laughed, which was probably a good thing because I don’t think I would make a good skater.  So ultimately, Howell made me want to get better at writing.  Whilst the sight of me sitting at my computer, tapping away, pausing for cups of tea now and again, will never have the same appeal as watching a kick flip (definitely a skating term, I googled it) it is my equivalent of wanting to share what I love and give back. 

Art & Motion has become a highlight of PIAF so far.  It has raised my expectations of art, of myself, of making art accessible and the importance of learning and appreciating different art forms.  Because, this will help us empathise with different perspectives and ideas we couldn’t before, but ultimately, because it will just be ‘so much fun.’