BOARD: Surf and Skate Cultures Meet Contemporary Art


With our warm climate, plentiful beaches and abundant skate parks, surf and skate cultures are central to the Australian outdoor lifestyle. Indeed summer seems to herald an omnipresence of board-based activities. Taking this a step further is Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery’s latest exhibition which prompts the meeting of board-based subcultures with contemporary art.

Aptly titled BOARD, the exhibition spans installation, video, photography and sound, and includes works by Vernon Ah Kee, Gerry Bobsien, Shaun Gladwell, Nancy Kilgour, Brett McMahon, Tracey Moffatt, Nell and John Turier, as well as emerging artists from Hunter St TAFE.

What brings these artists together is not simply a love of surfing or skating, but also a consideration of the political, cultural and emotional aspects of board-based subcultures.

“Board riding is very much part of our present-day experience of life in Australia, whether you practice or spectate,” explains curator Meryl Ryan. “The artists mine board-based subcultures for their dynamic imagery, contemporary relevance and narrative potential. They reflect on the experience of the board in context, and on the big-picture feelings beyond.”

While many of the works look at challenging stereotypes, the show also considers how board-based pursuits entwine with risk-taking, courage, physical skill and creativity. This is explored in Brett McMahon’s newly commissioned four-part installation. As Ryan says, “McMahon evokes the experience of riding a wave. For him, the conceptual basis of the work derives from surfing’s relationship with fear and mortality.”

Further taking a poetic look at the classic ‘art versus sport’ divide is Shaun Gladwell’s performance and video works, which connect personal experience with contemporary culture and historical references. “Gladwell’s Skateboarders vs Minimalism sees world-class skaters such as Jesus Esteban, Rodney Mullen, Hillary Thompson creatively ‘misusing’ famous minimalist artworks in a gallery setting, while Self Portrait Spinning and Falling in Paris sees Gladwell himself interacting with iconic Parisian landmarks,” says the curator.

By exploring surf and skate cultures BOARD attempts to draw viewers into the larger worldview of the artists, understanding the political, ethical and survivalist concerns being put forth.

As Ryan sums up, “My hope is that viewers will respond to these intentions and to the poetry, humour and complexity of the works; the exhibition may then provoke questions about the creative act and where to discover art in our present-day world.”

Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery
9 December – 4 February 2018

Preview Words by Tiarney Miekus