Lille Skate Expo

Image (right) by Seb Michelini, other images courtesy of Wig Worland and RLD.
Written by Ralph Lloyd-Davis

Lille is a buzzing town on the north-eastern border of France neighbouring with Belgium, and also the first stop once you have spent 20 minutes under the Channel via Eurostar.

Despite the industrial roots, Lille has shed the smoggy image of yesteryear for a bright and colourful make over of music, art and attitude, thus gaining the title of Culture Capital of France in 2004. This is the link that makes Lille and skateboarding synonymous, and what better way to celebrate our culture than with Exposkate – Skate* Architecture, Music, Design, Art: Probably the most complete and exciting event about everything a wooden plank with four wheels entails.

Now, you might remember Crossfire visiting Lille once before in the past. Our man in the mist, Maxwell Woodger Esq. cleared customs and paid a visit to Europe’s first Street Plaza and the brand new skatepark that Lille had to offer. Well, the street plaza is still there and well worth your visit, whilst the indoor skatepark has grown immensely and anyone vaguely interested in street culture can be found rolling, spinning and swinging around the concourse. The “Halle de Glisse” (skatepark), as it’s known, was only an appetizer because my calling was SKATE*- an exposition that boasted artwork from the Beautiful Losers, photos by the famed Fred Mortagne, modern architecture by the skilled hands of the Side Effects of Urethane/Moving Units team, live music and much much more.

I am a frequent user and abuser of the Eurostar because of it’s facility to get me from A to B without the hassle of out-of-town-terminal treks, suspicious check in staff, disgruntled stewards and ludicrously expensive refreshments. I can literally go from the fabled gloom of Southbank, to the fresh open air of Paris, Lille or Brussels, and be back in time for Eastenders all in one day, and at very low cost if I book in advance. There is no need to sweat about getting lost trying to find the Exposkate; the location is a brief 5 minute walk straight out of the Eurostar station, Lille Europe.

Gathered in an abandoned Postal service building, the Tri-Postal, SKATE* spreads across three floors and 1600sq/m of space put to good use. I’ve visited a few skate themed shows in the past, but these are usually resumed by a mini ramp, or a few bits of artwork spread across the four walls of a basement or loft. A mere drop in the ocean when you see what Lille has to offer!

I was greeted at the Tri Postal by Laurent and Laurence – the couple behind this grand scheme and major success I might add. Laurent has been working as an event organiser for the last 10 years, so he knows how to put on a good show. Laurence is a lovely young lady who was always ready to answer a question or offer information, and kept me up to date with the venues goings-on via email before and after my visit. Obviously the town donated some cash to help fund Exposkate, but it was really down to Laurent and Laurence’s hard work and networking that made this show so big and worthwhile. With deep ties to the skate scene, Laurent knew what he wanted in his show, so the Beautiful Losers, Moving Units and various others were called up to make dreams become reality. Since opening it’s doors SKATE* has seen professional skaters, amateurs, musicians, foreigners and families absorb the mass of culture that the venue boasts, and the visits look unlikely to relent with an average of 300 people a day walking through the gallery.

So, I take my first few steps through the building and all I can do is gasp. There’s a bar, a stage for live music, a shop stocked with all those modern art books you hear about but never seem to find, a small enclosure dedicated to the lesser known artists and collectives entitled ‘Do it yourself’, and essentially the Side Effects of Urethane/Moving Units newest playground- Interstices. A beautifully crafted skate utopia of curved ledges, banks, driveways and walls that line and wind their way through the dimly lit space. It’s like an urban yet artistic décor that brings the action to the viewer. Huge screens lower during the day to project films that demonstrate the various uses for the unique bench/ledges, then from 5pm till 8pm, skaters pay the modest sum of 2 euros (approx. £1.35) to ride the obstacles. Needless to say, heavy sessions break out from 5 on the dot! Accompanying the modern take on architecture are Fred Mortagne’s exquisite photos, and texts submitted by various personages of the skate world (Jeremie Daclin, Soy Panday, Benjamin Deberdt…). I must say Fred takes some of the best skate shots I have seen in a long time, and he’s only been clicking away for a couple of years!

Oh! Did I forget to mention the video lounge? Hidden away in a darkened corner of the ground floor sit three televisions, flashing a constant flow of images that any video geek would willingly sell his soul for- Mouse, Easter Exposure Three, Skateboard Madness, Virtual Reality, Rollin’ through the decades, Public Domain… It’s all there and more. Each television is supposed to represent an era of skateboarding: The Concrete Wave, Big Time and Street Invasion, and even the tables and chairs you can lounge on are aesthetically close to their epoch. I think this section alone is worth the entry fee, but get ready for some serious viewing because more than half of these videos are categorically out of print today.

Already the first floor had me in shock and awe, but it’s only the first of three floors of sensorial euphoria. Upstairs lies the main art show split in two sections: Two thirds are made up of the Beautiful Losers, whilst the remainder hosts an eclectic show called Exposichienne. I’ll start by describing the latter of the two, Exposichienne. Already, the name is a word play in French that connects the two words, exposition and chienne, which literraly means ‘Bitch’. All the walls are highly decorated with graphic images and illustrations of a 50’s Golden era ideology and the gore and angst of modern day life. Despite an undercurrent of negativity and grittiness, the pictures and paintings are full of colour and detail which captivates your eyes to search out hidden meanings and detail.

Stepping across the hall and you enter the Beautiful Losers gallery. This collective was founded when Aaron Rose and Christian opened the Alleged Art gallery in New York to expose work by a post adolescent generation who mingled with urban culture, notably skateboarding. There is a heavy list of artists on show, but to name a few you can see work by Craig Stecyk III, Ed Templeton, James Jarvis, Mark Gonzales and many more. Each artist has a section which is unique in its genre. You can spot the misled youth of Ed Templeton’s provocative work, or the bolder bill board style paintings and prints of Mission District artists Margaret Kilgallen and Chris Johanson, and then witness the bizarre video reels of Spike Jonze. There is so much art and culture in the Beautiful Loser gallery that one visit would never do it justice. Obviously I felt a stronger tie to what I saw because of the connection through skateboarding, but judging by how varied and skilled the displays are, anyone can find one item to inspire them.

As I physically had to drag myself away from such an adrenalin rush of artwork, I made my way to the final floor where various artists will be allowed to expose their work over the following months. During my visit I was calmed by the portraits of James Cochran a.k.a. Jimmy C. James uses oil and aerosol paint to create very bright, yet soft portrayals of city dwellers. Future art shows on the third floor will include photographs by Martha Cooper, re-known for her pictures of life in the Bronx during Hip-Hop’s early years, a graffiti retrospective that follows the urban art around the globe and profiles some of the major players in the game, and finally an audio-visual exposé of B-Boy culture through the eyes and ears of Eddie Otchere.

After a good few hours (Which clearly wasn’t long enough!) of visiting the Tri Postal and it’s Exposkate extravaganza, I made my way back downstairs for an open display of skateboarding on the Interstices modules. I joined the locals and visiting skaters as we thrashed around the course, narrowly avoiding one another as we carved the wave and slid across the ledges. I must mention that Laurent and Co. invite various skate rippers to come and visit the gallery and Lille’s skatepark. I just happened to be there when the ‘Thrasher’ invitational was on, so I got to witness Antiz’s Hugo Liard, David ‘Roest’ Martelleur, Hans Claessens and Ian Dykmans grapple with the huge skatepark for a relaxed couple of hours, and then get gnarly at Interstices.

Needless to say the over vert sections and huge wallrides felt the real force of urethane and plywood for the first time! Future invitationals include a Rookie and Styler line-up. I think the live skateboarding was essential to provide that cerebral connection between art, form and function that visitors were looking for. And judging by the number of smiles I saw and cheers I heard, I’d say it was mission accomplished.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around for the live concert planned for later that evening, but I did sip a couple of beers with everyone after a sweaty skate session. I also congratulated Laurent and Laurence on their initiative to present our culture to the masses in such a way that no physical sense is left spared. I can’t explain how essential it is that you get your tickets booked, or fuel in your engine to make the trek and visit SKATE* I know for a fact that I’m going back soon, and probably again after that, because this gallery is as complete and thorough as a portrayal of the culture we love can get. Plus, the exposition isn’t going anywhere fast because it’s set to stay in Lille until the 2nd July, before moving on to further shores (Japan, Berlin..?).

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Ralph Lloyd Davis