February 18, 2010

Straight Air

The 2010 Winter Olympics has become a welcome treat, wildly distracting us from a harsh winter with chock-a-block thrills and spills. Short track has to be one of the more unpredictable, adrenalin-rush sports; it was fun watching the Koreans "x" themselves out of the final heat allowing Apolo and J.R. to medal. And the multiple crashes by the downhill women, who were all amazingly unhurt after hurtling 80 miles an hour down the hard-packed tundra, showed us their genuine toughness.

Last night I managed to watch the halfpipe finals and saw Shaun White and Scotty Lago clean up. It, too, was a brutal event as that edgy Japanese snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo did a faceplant and bloodied his upper lip.

Later on, my old pal @mdusham tweeted "art world needs a 'straight air' requisite like snowboarders: do 1 piece that's pure in concept/technique."

I immediately understood his reasoning. In halfpipe judging, the snowboarder must demonstrate at least one straight line jump off the wall or "kicker." No twists, flips or spins are allowed when demonstrating that "straight air" trick. If artists - especially novice initiates - were asked to exhibit a work that actualized a basic concept it might help yield real definitions for art.

It was only after I searched "straight air" that I realized how analogous this snowboarder term actually was to visual arts. In a piece on halfpipe judging, the requirement of this particular rule is explained: Though controversial, the straight air rule is in place according to FIS [International Ski Federation], to 'easily relate rudimentary halfpipe skills and style to spectators in an attempt to protect and prolong the sport.'(2)

Comparable relationships can be drawn between extreme sports like snowboarding and art-making as it has become evident in contemporary art that a basic ability to actuate basic concepts in your practice necessarily overrides "self-expression."

Yet some snowboarders don't like the rule, as this boarder's complaint about "straight air" clearly articulates:
"Snowboarding is about self-expression. It’s about doing it your own way and doing your best run, but when the rules start telling you how to do your run, it simply screws things up."

I have to disagree. It isn't that the rule "screws things up," ace. It's that this overblown importance and reliance upon self-expression gets in the way of how your "skill" can be judged. If art exhibitions were curated or mounted that challenged artists to submit and show basic, conceptual work - to clearly convey basic visual concepts to viewers - I believe it would serve to support, protect and prolong visual art.

We ought to be able to see your basic concepts before you show us your "Double McTwist."

Image: Danny Davis at 2009 Grand Prix Cooper Mountain Qualifiers; photo by George Crosland; courtesy SNOWREV; © Copyright 2009.


1. "Olympic Halfpipe Judging Explained" at Transworld Snowboarding.

2. Ibid.


John M. Adams said...

Great comparison Mark, you are on to something here. I love the straight air element of the event - it does help to clarify who is in total control, but it can still be tweaked, grabbed, leaned, etc to become part of the total run - the snowboarder has to integrate it in to the aesthetic of his/her run. Some of them do that beautifully while some straight airs are just obligatory.
I find that sometimes when working on a new project, I have to rein myself in, to focus on one or two things, to create the best experience for the viewer. (like the Site-specific drawing I'm starting later today at the Adam Lister Gallery, I almost made that WAY too complicated just because I had the opportunity to). Plus, sometimes, its good to set some rules or boundaries for yourself, and that's how many artists work, even though our reputation says otherwise, and we'd probably rather keep it that way.
As an art educator, these are good things to remind our students.

Mark Cameron Boyd said...

Many thanks for your comment, John. You grasped the essence of the piece and it is empowering to know it resounds with you.
Keep me posted on your projects and I hope to visit your Lister site when it is readied for viewing.