The Intersection of Art, Science and Skateboarding
By Jeremy Morrison
Sometimes it seems science blurs into art and vice versa. Or, perhaps, one discipline is inspiring or informing the other.
Caitlin Rhea, executive director of First City Art Center in Pensacola, recognizes these similarities between the processes of both artists and scientists.
“I think I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection between art and science,” she said. “The approaches are rather similar, but the outcome is different.”
For this year’s Foo Foo Fest, Rhea has teamed up with David Fries, creative scientist in residence at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, on a project intertwining art, science and technology and, of course, skateboarding.
“When you have art culture fused into skate culture fused into science culture, that to me is really exciting,” Fries said.
Both Fries and Rhea recognize the artistry and science in skating, too.
“They’re responding to their environment much in the same way an artist does, but I don’t think people usually think of them that way,” Rhea said. “They’re artists, too.”
For Foo Foo, Fries and Rhea have put together an exhibit called 3D Printsacola. The project entails building, or rather printing, ramp-like elements that can be arranged and rearranged, constructed, deconstructed and reconstructed in a variety of ways.
“Most people think of 3D printing as extruded,” Fries said, explaining that the 3D printing process being employed for Printsacola lies somewhere between that extrusion method and more traditional construction methods.
Using forms to create concrete blocks—“basically concrete Legos”—Fries has designed a system that allows for a design to be dreamed up, punched into a computer, then constructed by a driverless Bobcat that transports each of the concrete blocks into place.
“You start making blocks, and then these blocks can be built up to make a structure,” Fries said.
For this project, the scientist and the artist have engaged the local skating community, who will help design various constructs with the printed blocks and then enjoy skating on their creations.
“It’s a combination of machines generating art and human interaction with those devices,” Rhea said.
“It’s allowing the technology to enable creativity and design,” Fries said.
For the exhibit’s Nov. 1 event, the team has also tapped one of the world’s most influential skateboarders—the so-called “godfather of modern street skating”—Rodney Mullen. Hailing from the same 1980s Bones Brigade crew that produced the likes of Tony Hawk, Mullen essentially engineered the foundation of modern skateboarding.
“He reflects athleticism and scholarship in one,” Rhea said. “That’s why he’s the perfect individual to tie all this stuff together.”
In addition to being a landmark skater, Mullen—who approaches skate tricks as if he’s constructing sentences or mathematical equations—has evolved into somewhat of a hot ticket item beyond the world of skateboarding. He gives TED talks and collaborates with MIT researchers.
“Rodney—he’s a poster child for innovation these days,” Fries said.
Fries met Mullen at an event sponsored by the Doolittle Institute, at which the audience was a mix of skaters and researchers from the U.S. Air Force. When 3D Printsacola began to take shape, he knew the skater would be a perfect fit.
“He’s very mathematical,” Fries said. “He thinks spatially. The Bobcat thinks spatially. Artists think spatially.”
During the Foo Foo event, Mullen will help in designing skateable constructs out of the printed blocks and offer skating demonstrations. After Foo Foo, the blocks—which Fries is implanting with augmented reality (AR) technology and which local artists will use as their virtual canvas—will live on. They will likely find their way into the skatepark area being planned for a parcel of land located near downtown Pensacola.
“We’re hoping some of these things have an afterlife,” Fries said.
3D PRINTSACOLA: SKATEABLE SKULPTURES EDITION
WHAT: An event centered around live action art-making and creative skateboarding, featuring Rodney Mullen
WHEN: 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1
WHERE: First City Art Center, 1060 N. Guillemard St.
COST: $10 suggested donation