SKATELAB (Laboratorio de skate) was a project that temporarily appropriated an unused pavillion in the back of a museum, creating a space dedicated to play and skating to explore the contemporary culture of skateboarding in Mexico City. It was an initiative that launched as part of my three month designer-in-residency at Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, a contemporary art museum located in Mexico City.
The architecture of Skatelab, which was developed with the Mexican architecture firm Anónima, was deliberately minimalistic and served as an alternative if not an antithesis to the rise of skatepark construction in Mexico City. Designed to be adapted towards experimentation, expansion and appropriation, the space was equipped with only a few permanent elements and the rest consisted of temporary objects and things that could be appropriated for skating.
The goal of Skatelab was two-fold:
(1) Challenge how large-scale and institutional urban design initiatives such as the construction of state-of-the-art skateparks, which create highly scripted and programmed play spaces, increasingly deprive skaters of the potential to exercise their spatial and creative agency in public spaces: the streets, plazas, sidewalks, parks and the act of appropriating of other unused, abandoned and/or forgotten spaces.
(2)Create a channel through which non-institutional actors (skaters) can enter and creatively occupy spaces with institutional power (museums) and develop new working relationships.
Skatelab also contributed to creating different social dynamics with the public/non-skaters, most visible in the ways through which the passerby in the park started to occupy the space for recreational and entertainment purposes (such as playing on the ramps without using a skateboard, or simply coming to Skatelab to watch skaters skate). The museum produced rules, policies, and signages in reaction to the new socio-spatial relations produced through the act of skaters entering institutional spaces.
DIY architectureOne of the best skaters in Mexico City, TJ, rips on a DIY skate spot that he and other skaters made in Museo Tamayo. The skateable objects were provided by SK8SCAPES, Monkey Skateboards and Ucanskate, and all of the materials used in the DIY portion of Skatelab were sourced and chosen by the skaters themselves.Miguel Rojas Rea
Skatography workshop with Anónima, 1A skater shows a photo on his phone in response to the brief, "skateparks that are not skateable." This collaborative workshop with Anónima aimed to map the geography of a skateable city through stories, photos and experience, as well as understanding the lesser-known geography of skate that exists outside of the city's borders in Estado de México.Reina Imagawa
Skatography workshop with Anónima, 2Skaters talking with Erik Carranza of Anónima about skate spots in Estado de México. Anónima is one of the key players in the landscape of publicly funded skatepark construction in Mexico City, and their participation was a huge plus in understanding and collectively discussing the changing contemporary landscape of play.Reina Imagawa
New dynamics in the museumJust by skating, skaters created a whole new dynamic and sets of socio-spatial relations with the passerby, such as people on bikes, people walking their dogs, children playing, and museum-goers.Reina Imagawa
Curated museum visit for skatersAndrés Valtierra of Museo Tamayo leading a specially curated museum visit for skaters. We merged the themes from the Trevor Paglen exhibition with issues of surveillance and decreased agency in public space that skaters experience on a day to day basis.Reina Imagawa
Making the museum skateable, 1Skaters using maps of the museum to speculate and identify opportunities for skating to appropriate the architecture of Museo Tamayo.Reina Imagawa
Making the museum skateable, 2One of the maps produced as a result of skaters going around the museum and meticulously analyzing it for skateable opportunities.
Festival de Cine Skate (Skate Film Festival)The skaters who participated in the first skateboarding film festival in Museo Tamayo, which included 9 local brands from Mexico City and the showing of "Build Ramps Not Walls" from Shore Skatepark in Punta de Mita. The event was produced and organized by Malina, the founder of the all-female skate group Mujeres en Patineta.Reina Imagawa
Co-designing with skaters
I am not a skater.Skatelab, like many of the skateparks that are currently being constructed in Mexico City, was conceived by a non-skater. To make sure that the space can programatically function to meet the skaters' various needs – both technically as well as culturally – it was essential to create a co-design process that included skaters in the picture from the very start.
The conceptual phase of Skatelab took place between June and July. I poured over skate literature, talked to older and younger generations of skaters (as well as skaters who consider themselves "puro street" or purely street), pitched ideas as well as project blurbs to skater-designerly people (who themselves either do or don't skate, but have some sort of interest in conceptual, experimental skate projects), and started to collaborate with Erik Carranza of Anónima on the architectural design. Throughout this whole process, my skate mentor Hesner Sánchez was instrumental in giving me great advice and thoughtful criticism that effectively checked my assumptions as a non-skater trying to create a skate project, and I would always find productive workarounds and strategies as a result of our long and dense conversations (that I sometimes miss). Manuel Alcalá, the director of the education department that generously hosted my residency, was another principal actor who provided me the critical bridge to negotiate this initiative with the museum, and this strange yet exciting project started to legitimately enter the museum space. Manuel was also the first one who pointed out to me the possibility of putting skateable ramps in the pavillion that no one was using, and I expanded on his idea like a kid who just got their hands on the greatest toy – in this case, an opportunity to merge my two favorite worlds, skateboarding and museums.
As aforementioned, most skateparks are either designed or built by non-skaters. In the case of constructing Skatelab it was a similar situation, as it would be utopic to assume that most construction workers in Mexico would have some sort of baseline knowledge as to how to make something skateable. Making skateable things is a nearly impossible feat for the non-skater, since they lack the experience of skateboarding to understand the right type of material and formal quality the objects should have, but it was only by going through the experience of constructing it did this issue start to resonate. Working with the workers from Distrito Industrial helped me greatly to understand the need for communicating basic skate ergonomics to the actual people who carry out their construction/realization, and together through experimentation and productive failed attempts we managed to build three skateable ramps.
Skatelab was officially opened to the public on August 6th, 2018. In its first phase, Skatelab served as a space for experimentation for many different communities, all having something to do with skateboarding, play and/or the city: architects/urbanists, artists, creatives and designers. New ideas, practices and relationships emerged as a result from the different creatives sharing a common space. It was important to quickly start prototyping ways in which skaters, and more broadly this type of design practice that tries to intervene in spaces with institutional power, to be able to start a dialogue with the museum. Skatelab started to invite the skate community to the museum through curating specific visits for skaters, creating a conversation between the themes that emerged in both the museum's exhibitions as well as the everyday life of skaters. For instance, we introduced the Trevor Paglen exhibition through the lens of surveillance and lack of agency in public spaces, and tied it to quotes from Iain Borden's classic text Skateboarding, Space and the City.
We also co-designed maps that made the museum skateable, inviting skaters to exercise their unique skills for appropriation by going around the museum and identifying opportunities in a space that was not designed for play. We also hosted some workshops in Skatelab. "Skatography" collaborated with Anónima and explored the geography of skate in Mexico City and the State of Mexico with skaters, using photos on their phones, a 24" x 36" map on foamcore, markers, scissors, tape and stories. "Decodificación de videos" worked with Ximena Rios-Zertuche to discuss the exclusivity of urban public space through dissecting and analyzing how people skate in skate videos. We also brought a ramp to skate on to the Estela de Luz, a nearby plaza, and skaters negotiated opportunities for play with actors such as the security guards, passerby, and office workers taking their lunch break.
During the course of the summer Skatelab hosted a number of events co-designed with skaters, including "Mercado Skate" (skate market) with Lúdica skate, and a skate picnic with Ucanskate. Eventually, I had to go back to Los Angeles to finish my degree, but Skatelab continued with the help of the museum. Brenda Garcia and Eva Cardenas in the education department were two irreplaceable people who were instrumental in sustaining the project as I managed it remotely back in Los Angeles, and together they helped me coordinate logistics between skaters and the museum as they started to work more directly. Skaters began to bring their own initiatives, and the range of events grew: DIY parties with playlists curated by skaters, more skate markets, an exhibition curated by Hesner about skate graphics that invited many of the key skate brands in Mexico City, a skate film festival produced by Mujeres en Patineta, and a skate school for children, especially girls, also produced by Mujeres. With limited resources and budget, we essentially replicated and engineered the creative practice of skaters in an institutional space, and the enormous and generous support from the skateboarding community was the key element that helped made the projects work.
Skatelab continues to explore how contemporary practices of play in the city are shaped and informed through institutional modes of design practice. The space currently remains open for all types of everyday activities as well as events that continue to develop new relationships between skaters and Museo Tamayo. The ramps in Skatelab are soon to be handed over to Veronica, an extremely talented young Mexican skater, and transported to her house where she will open her own skate school for youth. The spirit of Skatelab continues to grow and hopes to take on other forms of design practice in the museum.
A special thanks goes out to all of the skaters, the artists, and the many photographers and videographers who have documented this experience and helped make it possible; my skate mentors Hesner Sánchez, Martin Núñez, Erik Carranza and Oyuki Matsumoto, and Caleb Gutiérrez who supported the crucial maintenance of the ramps; and my extremely supportive team at Taller Tamayo including Manuel Alcalá, Brenda Garcia and Eva Cardenas, to name a few. More details and full credits can be found in the accompanying PDF. Gracias skateboarding.