As a skateboarder, Nunatsiavut artist Mark Igloliorte observes movement in a unique way. Joggers will have a different perspective of cityscapes than cyclists or drivers, but Iglioliorte’s skateboard wheels, which are only 53 millimetres wide, pick up on many other textures rolling underneath his feet, giving him a close-to-the-earth sensitivity to his surroundings.
This exploration of movement has been a mainstay in the Montreal-based artist’s practice, including several projects that use the kamutik and kayak as a means of interrogating how land has traditionally been traversed by Inuit and its future possibilities. On October 1–6, 2022, Iglioliorte shared his vision with his formidable installation, Saputiit – Fish Weir Skate Plaza, which transformed Toronto’s downtown Yonge-Dundas Square into an Indigenous space for skateboarders as part of the city’s all-night Nuit Blanche festival and the following week for the Nuit Blanche Toronto Extended Projects program. More than 500,000 people engaged with the installation through its short life, either on wheels or by cheering on. In addition to building a temporary skatepark in a plaza where skating is prohibited by the city, Iglioliorte also provided an augmented reality (AR) experience where visitors could view virtual Arctic char on their mobile devices swimming amongst the skaters.
Here, Iglioliorte shares the artistic inspirations and processes behind building this monumental one-of-a-kind skatepark.
Mark Igloliorte Saputit – Fish Weir Skate Park (2022)Photo Sam Javanrouh Courtesy City of Toronto
On a research trip in Paris I went to Place de la République, which is a wide-open, wonderful public plaza with a Metro stop, a restaurant, trees, benches and a park in the middle of the city.
What's really awesome is that there are skateboard obstacles integrated into the space. The plaza is tiled with granite and the skateboard features are too, which is such an amazing texture to skateboard on. What is completely unique is that there is no separation from the pedestrian space for people to walk around. Anyone going to the Metro is basically walking through the skateboard-plaza features as skateboarders are moving around pedestrians in this major city. It struck me as such an amazing and innovative way of living and coexisting, allowing different kinds of movement in the same space.
I really wanted to do a plaza feature for Nuit Blanche Toronto. I was invited and encouraged to dream and push the boundaries of my practice and work, with a massive platform like Nuit. My dream included introducing skateboarding into a public plaza in a Indigenous way and taking up public space that is normally prohibited. My hope was that the Toronto skateboard scene would be thrilled to take over this space with me.
I was reflecting on how Inuit would move rocks in order to adjust the movement of a low-running river in order to corral fish and to influence the movement of fish, and tying that back into how skateboarding is something that happens down around your feet and by your ankles. My goal for the installation saputit (fish weir) was to create that movement of the fish is likewise down by your feet. It was the perfect way to merge the two concepts of fishing and skateboarding into the environment and to welcome movement to bring people together.
The overall concept led into designing a skateboard plaza that had the bag-like shape of a saputit where the fish would be funnelled into it from a low-lying river.
Mark Igliolorte’s “Nanaimo bar” drawings, paint samples and the final technique.© the artist
Working with the fabrication company Drizzle Entertainment, using a digital mock-up for the skateboard platforms, which reminded me of a Nanaimo bar, I knew I wanted to do colour on the sides and then another colour for the trim (or coping), and then a colour on the top for a wave effect. I went through about 20 different colour combinations. What I landed on was Fish Pond and Brilliant Blue, which are a teal and a deep blue. I was thinking about David Hockney’s pool surfaces and how he would depict the water on top of a pool, which is actually a lot like the image that I used in the lower left. But when I was trying to paint it myself onsite, I realized that I would be unsatisfied if I was too ambitious with the wave effect. And so what I settled on were some very broad zigzagging lines, which are indicative of water—more of a feel or gesture of the water’s surface rather than a naturalistic depiction.
The final painted design© the artist
Mark Igloliorte demonstrates the “Nanaimo bar” painting in progresscourtesy Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project © Jason Sikoak
Ahead of the week-long installation I coordinated with leaders from the Toronto Skate Community including Queer Skate Toronto, Oldowan Blackboard (Canada’s first Black skateboard collective), Aunty Skates (Toronto-based South Asian TikTok influencer), Later Skaters Gang (age-inclusive), Impact Skate Club (POC led–nonprofit organization), Babes Brigade (female-owned women-centric skateboarding company) and special guests from Nations Skate Youth (Indigenous nonprofit organization). Each of these leaders and organizations invited their communities and hosted skateboard sessions at the plaza for the Nuit extended program.
The night of Nuit Blanche was phenomenal. There were hundreds of skateboarders from all over the city attempting and landing tricks with viewers visiting the square from the more than 1.2 million festival goers. The Yonge-Dundas stage was lit up just above the plaza and live music was provided until 4 AM by local and national musicians and DJs. In addition, the surrounding LED would intermittently play captivating animations by Māori artist Johnston Witehira. The whole atmosphere was electric. The skaters of Toronto at all levels, from learners, experts showed their world-class ability to flip and grind their way through the night as well as showing their capacity to share space with one another.
As part of the engagement was the AR piece, which allowed the audience the ability to bring Arctic char swimming upstream into the space. This was done by using their smartphones and to see the animated fish as they moved along with the skateboarders. There’s something magical about those two kinds of movements coming together. As skateboarders we talk a lot about flow. And flow, of course, relates to water; it relates to a certain kind of movement that fish also embody. I was thinking about fish in the river and in the saputit, that movement happening between your foot and your knee, and that a lot of the movement for skateboarding also happens in that same area. Having the char swimming through the plaza in the centre of the city helped reinforce the concept of the project.
Meeting up with research assistant Colin Courtney to screen record a few clips at Viaduc Van Horne skatepark in Montreal, QC, to capture the same AR char audiences experienced.
Nuit Blanche is an art festival that creates opportunities to look at and experience the city in different ways. To transform the coveted Yonge-Dundas Square where most of Toronto’s downtown spaces are littered with “No Skateboarding” signs. My aim for Saputiit as an Indigenous-hosted space was that the audience responded to and embraced seeing the vibrant skateboarder community will direct a flow of change for greater openness, movement and splendour in the public spaces of Toronto.
Mark Igloliorte (Inuk, Nunatsiavut) is an artist, essayist and educator. His artwork investigates Indigenous futures through a grounding in embodied practices and language. His focus on mobility, with the use of the kayak, kamutik and skateboard, speak to how the land is traversed and with specific ties to a pre-colonial past and an indigenized future. He is an associate professor of Frameworks and Interventions in Indigenous Art Practices, Department of Studio Arts at Concordia University in Montreal, QC.
This project was made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts.