This week two students walked out of my class at the art academy in Rotterdam; they disagreed with my connecting situationism and skateboarding. After the coffee break they unsubscribed at the administration office, stating provocatively that they ‘couldn’t learn anything in my class’.
What happened? Were they right? I recognized an old conflict that runs through the academy, and that runs through the art world. I had invaded their territory, attempted to conquer it by theorising their world and challenging their autonomy. Skating has nothing to do with theory and therefore theorising it must be rejected. And why would they be wrong? All subcultures are by definition threatened by dissolving into commercialism and mainstream, by institutionalising through theory. They thrive on their exclusiveness, their homogeneous and alternative identity, their codes and rules. Therefore, if not well protected, they are threatened by extinction.
That’s one reading of this dispute, a proper one and I don’t disagree with my two former students in this regard – though a good discussion might have solved it in another way. Nevertheless, I want to look at this issue from another point of view.
Regarding the discussion we had, I merely wanted to point out that skating is an innovative movement, a group of people challenging the city as it was conceived by its architects. When the philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote his key work The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, he was embraced by surfers who recognized his ‘living in the fold’ as their ‘surfing in the wave’, the fold of nature. Similar to my connection between skating and situationism it’s a clear example of the crossover. For the surfers the ideas of Deleuze enhanced their experience in ‘the tube’, rather than taking it down.
The crossover between theory and practice should be similar to the crossover in music styles, or the crossover between hip hop music, graffiti and break-dance, or the crossover between philosophy and surfing mentioned above. It leads to differentiation and by opening up one expression for the other, crossover becomes a tool for innovation and empowerment. Instead of an antagonistic relation in which theory colonizes territories, I’d rather see it as a collaboration aiming at opening up new territories.
This can be witnessed strongly in the way urban counter cultures, such as skating, created an anarchistic model of living in the city and inspired all kinds of alternative expressions. It can traced back to the trend of galleries squatting abandoned buildings, artists acting out interventions in public space, rather than making commissioned works, temporary appropriation of abandoned patches of land for leisure activities, community practice in art and architecture, which develops alternative strategies for the redevelopment of neighbourhoods, political stencil art, recycling of buildings, places and materials, etc.
It’s just one line of thought with regards to a benevolent exchange between theory and practice, but I think work needs to be done to close the gap!