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The Hybrid project in Bordeaux, Malmö & Toronto

We’re definitely interested in the thing that Leo Valls at some point called skate urbanism. You know, when skaters get the chance to be a part of city planing. We even did a whole issue about it (and maybe one or two onlince articles). Berlin based artist Pierre Descamps was also part of that issue. This summer he created some new of his skateable scultpures for the cities of Bordeaux, Malmö and Toronto. Three sculptures were placed in each city. We talked to Pierre about it as well as Leo Valls (Bordeaux), Gustav Eden (Malmö) and Ariel Stagni (Toronto).

Photos: Gregoire Grange (Bordeaux non skating), Clément Harpillard (Bordeaux skating), Nils Svenson (Malmö), Nathan Stripp (Toronto)

Pierre Descamps

How did everything start?

The initiative came from Toronto with Ariel wanting to do something in the city. There was also the exchange of sculptures between Malmö and Bordeaux going on for three years and I had met Leo Valls years ago here in Berlin, where he told me that he’d like to work with me one day. So now all of this connected together. The idea was to make the same sculptures in three cities, so it playes with different contexts at the same time, with different skate scenes and different inhabitants. I always adapt a sculpture to a place and adapting a sculpture to three places, that don’t look alike, was really exciting.

How made that the design process different?

I started with a place in Toronto and built some models while waiting for the places in the other cities. I went to Malmö and visited the city with Gustav. Bordeaux made some propositions. I had this main idea and tried to make it fit to the other places with adding some other small elements. With this project I could play a bit more. In Berlin I’m limited to 300kg max., which is pretty small if you work with concrete. The heaviest one from this project is two tons.

In Berlin you’re limited because you transport it with your car?

Yes and you have the limitation of the ground. You can’t do everything you want everywhere.

Did the cities have a saying in the design?

They let me do my work. I showed them a lot of models and I wanted to know their favorites. In the beginning the plan was to do one sculpture but after that they wanted more than one and we all found it more exciting to do three sculptures in each city. So it was three sculptures being produced three times each. Two shapes were an easy decision, the third shape was not sure first, but Leo really wanted a bank.

Normally you also build the sculptures yourself. Now it would be to complicated to do them in Berlin and ship them. How was it that somebody else built them?

It was pretty easy. Especially when you do something with concrete, you build a wooden frame and pour it inside. So there’s nothing you can change in the process. That’s why it’s not that important if I build it or somebody else. I just do the plan and I know how it will look in the end. I did it so many times, the plan talks to me. But still there were some little differences in the outcome. In Malmö it got built by Bryggeriet and they were the fastest and built it exactly how I drew it

"The idea was to make the same sculptures in three cities, so it playes with different contexts at the same time, with different skate scenes and different inhabitants."

How was the usage of the sculptures different in the different cities?

I couldn’t travel there so I didn’t get much feedback about that. I only saw on the photos that the sculptures are completely dark from wax. I take that as a good sign.

Did you have a certain idea in mind you wanted to achieve with those sculptures?

I always try to fit the sculpture into the area where it will be placed and also give it some kind of social value. So people notice it and meet around. I don’t think a sculpture can change the world but it can bring a little something that you can play on. Spending some time in public spaces is good for everyone, is good for the society. We do it a lot as skateboarders to meet outside and interact with other people. You learn to understand everyone. That’s the idea I want to follow with all of my sculptures.

Did you learn something from this project and is there already an idea for a follow-up project?

I really enjoyed working with other cities, other aesthetics, other skaters and meeting the crew that was involved in the project. With Leo, Ariel and Gustav it made me feel less alone. We worked on the same thing, everybody with his own possibilities.

You do your scultpures in Berlin for quite a while now but now it’s an official project and it’s with Bordeaux, Malmö and Toronto. Did you ever work with the city of Berlin?

I’m working with the city at the moment but it’s looking pretty bad. The other one will happen in May 23. It’s through FriXfonds (a fond in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg for art in public space) and will be at Görlitzer Ufer. But it’s pretty complicated, especially in Germany. So many rules, so much bureaucracy. If there’s possibilities, I’ll make it but I don’t want to fight for it to do something with the city of Berlin.

Hybrides Bordeaux Lui Araki noseslide pop out Hybrides photo by Clement Harpillard

Lui Araki – Noseslide pop out

Leo Valls

What’s your position?

I’m an independent consultant and project manager. I have been doing it for 4 years now on the side of my skate career. I work directly with the electeds, city services, consulting agencies, architects and local organisations.

What has been done over the years for skateboarding in your city and what’s the goal you’re working towards.

Bordeaux used to have a repressive policy towards skateboarding. The first thing we did was to make the city understand that street skateboarding can’t be banned and that it could actually be something positive for the city development. This worked by doing lots of mediation, setting up symbolic time frames for skateboarding at the most difficult to share public spaces, and developing cultural public events. With BoardO over the past few years, we have developed three artistic projects of skateable sculptures in public spaces, and Hybrid is the latest one. We are currently working on a municipal skateboarding guide in order to make skateboarding legal everywhere in the city and propose recommendations of use for certain complicated spots. The goal is to keep developing the local skateboarding culture and make skateboarding accepted in the streets as much as possible.

Hybrides Bordeaux Jimmy Lannon ollie over photo by Clement Harpillard

Jimmy Lannon – Ollie over

How easy was it in your city to get the project approved?

Even after a few years, it’s always a bit of a challenge. It has to be a political decision so you have to convince people that this will be good for everyone.

How did this connected project help your work?

Hybrid is about building bridges with other skate communities around the world that are or would like to develop a skate friendly policy. In 2018, at the early stage of making skateboarding more accepted in Bordeaux, we got the help from activists such as David Boots in Montreal or Gustav Eden in Malmö and got to show our city that this was possible elsewhere. In 2019, we got to set up our own skateable sculptures in nine public spaces around Bordeaux. In 2020, we exchanged sculptures with Malmö. In 2022, we built the same sculptures, designed by the same artist, in the cities of Bordeaux, Malmö and Toronto at the same time. It’s about helping each other to develop skaturbanism globally.

"The one sculpture by the water mirror in Bordeaux was constantly used by non-skaters as a bench or as something to dry their towels on."

How is the feedback from skaters?

It really depends on the spots. Most skaters are still very focused on the tricks they can do more than anything else. Pierre Descamps doesn’t design easy to skate obstacles, which is something I personally appreciate, because it pushes you to be creative with it. But I heard from a lot of skaters that these new sculptures were really hard to skate. It’s fine with me, this project is about communicating towards the general public about the relationship between skateboarding and space above anything else. And if it can help skaters understand the importance of going out and looking for stuff to skate, I’m happy.

How is the feedback from non-skaters and politicians?

The one sculpture by the water mirror in Bordeaux was constantly used by non-skaters as a bench or as something to dry their towels on, haha. I think that’s cool.

What was the biggest challenge for you and what was the biggest reward you got from this project?

The biggest challenge was to get the money together for the construction, really. Also building concrete obstacles is tough, it’s so heavy and hard to move without breaking. What got me the most stoked was seeing people coming from overseas with the idea of skating and shooting on the obstacles. That’s always great!

Hybrides Bordeaux Leo Valls frontside five o to fakie photo by Clement Harpillard

Leo Valls – Frontside 5-0 to fakie

What’s the difference when more cities work together on a project compared to doing a project in just one city?

More work. More meetings that end up being cancelled due to time zone differences, haha.

Did you do a campaign in your city so people knew that there were skatesculptures or were they more or less just put there and whatever happened happened?

For the first skateable sculpture event in 2019 we did a big inauguration and a documentary with DC, for the second one we had posters all around the city etc. For Hybrid, we kind of kept it low key, communicated on social and let people enjoy the sculptures. Skateable sculptures in public space is becoming a summer tradition here, so it’s all good.

Gustav Eden

What’s your position?

I work as a project manager for the City of Malmö under the Streets Parks and Property dpt. My job is to work with the Malmö skate scene to evolve Malmö as a city and a city for skateboarding. Essentially doing a lot of different stuff for the benefit of Malmö and skateboarding. I've been doing this since 2014.

What has been done over the years for skateboarding in your city and what’s the goal you’re working towards.

Well I suppose the city has done a lot for skateboarding, but the skaters have also done a lot for the city. They got organized in the 90’s and had strong supporters from within the city that helped them set up the skate-organization Bryggeriet. This meant that skaters could spend time on developing the skate-scene which led to a broad range of projects and initiatives. Pivotal developments have been the contributions from the DIY-community, the construction of Stapelbäddsparken, the opening of the high-school and the development of a local skate-event organization with the city of Malmö as a partner. Malmö’s skaters have understood that if they want support from the city, they need to generate different types of value for the city overall, not just the skate-scene. On our end, the city has been open to see the unique values that skateboarding can generate and have trusted the skaters to know what works for skateboarding without interfering with the culture. The goal driving all this is the same for the city and the skaters – to work with skateboarding to develop Malmö.

How easy was it in your city to get the project approved?

I work for the Streets, Parks and Property dpt. that administer the type of applications you need for this kind of project, which is a real advantage. I can have a straightforward dialogue with my colleagues to work out details and get things through the approval process. Usually, projects that challenge norms require dialogue and need to be adapted. People that do not work within municipalities have a hard time understanding why this process needs to be complicated. The reality behind this is that municipalities need to protect the interests of their constituents which involves considering different democratic principles and legal frameworks. Elderly, children, people of low sight or hearing and all other user groups need to be considered. Skaters may care about skateboarding, but my job is to show why this is good for everyone. My position helps me navigate how we can realize mutual benefits.

How did this connected project help your work?

If you want progression, the worst thing you can do is close yourself off. We have been working with skateboarding and urban development for years and have a solid platform to stand on. If we can help others in their work to build similar relationships with their municipalities, then skateboarding and cities are better for it. We also learn and grow in the process. We need more different examples of how skateboarding can contribute to the life of cities and Malmö’s way is just one of many. We want to be inspired as much as we want to inspire. Skaters and municipalities from around the world reach out for advice on how to develop skateboarding in their cities. One way of helping is to offer advice, but being able to collaborate on a project is of course much more productive. When Leo and Arnaud came out for Pushing Boarders we immediately saw that the Malmö and Bordeaux scenes were in a good space to be able to build on each other.

"As Malmö has a lot to offer to skateboarders, it may not be clear to skaters here why they should skate the sculptures."

How is the feedback from skaters?

This is always a challenge. Functionality is obviously not the only concern when designing a skateable sculpture. If it was, you would make a skatepark-object like a ledge or a quarter. The feedback really depends on the skater’s openness to engage with the object. Every skater has autonomy to dictate their practice. That is kind of the point of skateboarding. Hybrid is not about taking sides. A key point of the project is, rather, to challenge norms and assumptions of public space. Hybrid manifests how skateboarding can operate inquisitively as well as formally. As a skater the choice is yours – you can be as creative or formal as you like.

How is the feedback from non-skaters and politicians?

Overall, what we get most is curiosity. People see the objects and register them without knowing what they are. This in itself adds a value to the democratic life of the city: Posing questions and inviting inquiry.

What was the biggest challenge for you and what was the biggest reward you got from this project?

Well to be honest we struggle with engagement from skaters. As Malmö has a lot to offer to skateboarders, it may not be clear to skaters here why they should skate the sculptures. We need to push the project and make sure we reach people who are into it. It’s not enough to place the sculptures and expect skaters to find them. This is also part of urban life, however. If skaters don’t want to engage, this also tells us something about skateboarders and skateboarding. In retrospect, however, time got away from us a bit and the event we produced with Shinner came in autumn. Unfortunately, rain got the best of us and the sculptures didn’t see as much skating as we would have wanted. I would say the biggest reward is to have gone through the process of making it happen with the team. I think the exhibition is only part of the story. I think the biggest reward is showing ourselves and others that it is possible to do. I’d like to see more of these kinds of exchanges in the future.

What’s the difference when more cities work together on a project compared to doing a project in just one city?

For quite a while the project was up in the air where we all needed something to come through from another city. We really couldn’t have done it without each other. Each scene had a different relationship with their city based on different institutions and streams of funding. You can’t apply the same format to each city, but rather support each other to navigate their specific conditions. I’m really impressed with how the crew pulled it together.

Hybrides Toronto Chad Wilson Wallie Nathan Stripp

Chad Wilson – Wallie

Ariel Stagni

What’s your position?

Long-time skater and co-lead (with Immony Mèn) on this project in Toronto.

What has been done over the years for skateboarding in your city and what’s the goal you’re working towards.

In Toronto, the City has developed a number of public skateparks, supported the establishment of the Toronto Skateboarding Committee and developed a skateboarding strategy. At the same time, skateboarders are increasingly excluded from shared spaces. At a high level, the City seems open to exploring skate urbanism, and this project presented an opportunity to pilot skateable art sculptures and skateboarding in shared spaces.

How easy was it in your city to get the project approved?

Not easy. In retrospect, initiating the project was the easier part, while the implementation, mostly getting approvals for the sites, was the hardest part.

How did this connected project help your work?

Since Toronto seems to be about ten years behind Malmö and Bordeaux in welcoming street skateboarding through skate urbanism, the significance of aligning with Malmö and Bordeaux can’t be overstated. Following the lead as well as examples set by those cities, and having the expressed support from these global leaders, helped the project secure the support it needed in Toronto to see the light of day as part of a city program.

"In Toronto, young and old folks climbed or sat on all the sculptures"

How is the feedback from non-skaters and politicians?

In Toronto, young and old folks climbed or sat on all the sculptures. The sculpture by the CN Tower was often used as a prop or bench by tourists taking photos of the tower. It blended in well, but also functioned beyond its intended use.

What was the biggest challenge for you and what was the biggest reward you got from this project?

In Toronto, locking in final approvals was the biggest challenge we faced. The idea that skaters should not or cannot safely or comfortably share spaces with non-skaters is rooted deeply in the dominant cultures of many North American cities, including Toronto. Specifically, we got a lot of pushback about locating the sculptures in busy downtown spaces. The biggest reward was forming an international collaboration with folks we respect in the area of Skate Urbanism. And locally, activating an aspect of the Toronto Skateboarding Strategy that hadn’t yet been implemented – skateable art sculpture/Skate Dot (a single skateable feature in a shared space).

What learning do you take from this project?

I’d say the last three years of working on this project I’ve learned more about my path than the last 20 years developing skateparks for many dozens of communities across Canada and abroad.

Hybrides Toronto Alex Barron Crook Bonk photo by Nathan Stripp

Alex Barron – Crook Bonk

Hybrides Toronto Ariel Stagni Back Tail photo by Nathan Stripp

Ariel Stagni – Backtail