Skate or Die, Punk
The 7 Ply Perspective at The Trillion Space
By Steven Robert Allen
My experience with skateboarding is extremely limited. When I was eight or nine years old, I inherited a decrepit, extra-skinny fiberglass board from some older kid on the block. I rode it around the neighborhood for about a month until the back wheels fell off. I don't think I ever rode another skateboard again.
So I'm not exactly immersed in the culture. I am aware, however, that many hardcore skaters experience their sport (art?) as some kind of metaphysics in motion. Rocky Norton is one such skater. He's also a photographer who operates The Trillion Space over on Second Street Downtown. The current show there is called The 7 Ply Perspective, a photography exhibit consisting entirely of work created by skateboarders.
Some of these photographers have worked for the very biggest skating publications in the world, including Thrasher, Slap Magazine, The Skateboard Magazine and Transworld. “Seven-ply,” Norton informs me, is the standard plywood used on skateboard decks. The title of the show doesn't merely suggest that the views of skaters are being presented. Norton also sees the title as a metaphor for different but connected artistic personalities—“plies” if you will—melded together into a single creative vision.
Even if you care as little about skateboarding as I do, this is a fascinating show. It's arranged quite well, each artist with his own grouping, every photograph mounted on simple, seven-ply wood rectangles.
Thankfully, this isn't just about skateboarding. Yes, there are daredevils flying through the air on tiny slabs of plywood, but there's much more here as well. The show goes deeper. Scottish skateboarder Alex Craig attended a skateboarding event in Croatia and happened upon four young lads crouched on a stairway. One kid holds a gun, so black it looks almost real, aimed at the head of another boy who cringes away from the barrel. The two onlookers appear vaguely uncomfortable, possibly because some crazy Scottish tourist is taking a picture of them, but their expressions suggest they're truly worried their friend is about to be snuffed. On one level, it's just kids playing on the street. Yet the photograph implies a very real, very disturbing violence.
Chris Sessions presents a wall of black and white images, mainly of faces, urban scenes, cigarette smokers. These are arranged horizontally, just a few photos high, in a long strip occupying an entire wall. Stepping back, these pictures lose their individual character, delivering a visual impact much greater than the sum of these parts. Like a roll of player piano punch-code paper, individual notes become less important than the entire tune.
Norton himself offers up several graphic images from a leather festival in San Francisco. The best of the lot features an ordinary-looking guy with a camera around his neck, wearing a baseball cap, a T-shirt and ... no pants. He's got it all just hanging out there and doesn't seem to care. It's as if a magician had made his pants vanish, and Norton caught him in the split second before he notices.
In these and other instances, The 7 Ply Perspective offers images that relish outsider cultures and subcultures extending far beyond the not-so-insular world of skateboarding. There are many skateboarding scenes here, too, of course, but they're meshed seamlessly into an absorbing, surprisingly broad visual experience.
Norton's got a real talent for putting together this kind of bare bones urban art show. The 7 Ply Perspective is another major success.
The 7 Ply Perspective runs through Thanksgiving weekend at the Trillion Space (510 Second Street NW), which will be open Friday, Nov. 24, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 25, and Sunday, Nov. 26, from noon to 5 p.m. www.thetrillionspace.com.
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