Free Basin

Transitions carve into traditions in Chicago.by Tony Larson

It’s not news to anyone that skateboarding and art-making have rolled along right next to each other from the beginning. They’ve each informed, reformed, and deformed one another countless times. Locate any skate scene and you’ll find an accompanying art squad. Whether it’s kids silk-screening in their garages or putting on their black sweatshirts and hitting the late-night streets to do some “writing,” this sport acts as a glue to which a lot of creative processes stick. In the last ten years we’ve witnessed a huge growth in the popularity of skateboarding, which in turn has polished many of its inherent facets┬┐not the least of which is art. It’s everywhere you look, and it has entered many arenas, but it’s often at its best when used to raise awareness┬┐particularly about issues that directly involve skateboarding.

An art project of this nature recently stepped into Chicago’s high-art-gallery world. Called Free Basin, the project was held at the Hyde Park Art Center, near Chicago’s lakefront. Within the walls of the gallery, artist Steve Badgett and his crew had constructed an absolutely perfect, wooden, kidney-shaped bowl. Badgett is investigating the architecture of skateboarding, the physical body existing within and outside of this architecture, space, perception, and lines. The structure was built to be skated, and research into the quality and realism of a backyard pool was thorough. The artist met with a lot of people in the skate industry, including many pros, past and present. The work and time involved was noticeable, and the overall aesthetic shockingly beautiful.

Entering the gallery actually placed you underneath the bowl, with a full view of the construction of the transitions and supports. The only real indication that the bowl was intended for skating was what you didn’t see. Moving through the lower space surrounded you with the amplified sound of urethane moving over wood. You might have to dodge bailed boards, or catch a quick glimpse of someone popping out of the sculpture. To view the inside of the bowl, which was basically perfect, you had to move up into the mezzanine and watch from above or actually be on the platforms.

For the six weeks of the Free Basin project, the public was welcome to come and skate. And that’s what happened. At the time of this writing it had already been sessioned by the locals, including Mario Rubalcaba, Patrick Melcher, Jesse Neuhaus, Ken Keistler, Michael Baber, Nate Lyons, Reg Push of Push Skateshop and his squad, the Uprise Crew, and many more, including pros on tour.

Chicago is notorious for being one of the most outlawed cities in terms of skating its streets, and until recently, no public funds were made available to build a park. City councilmembers were invited to the May 7 opening to explore the event in the hopes of developing lines of communication between the powers that be and those who skate. Progress has been made. Awareness has been raised.

Local shop-owner Reggie Push probably sums it up best: “For years now skaters have converged onto the downtown loop area for their nightly fix of marble ledges, rails, banks, et cetera. September 2000 marks a breaking point in Chicago’s skateboard history with the opening of our first, long-awaited concrete park on the lakefront, designed solely by skateboarders.” Right on.