The Magical Realism of Foundation's Star & Moon


Watching Foundation’s latest video Star & Moon is a good reminder that skateboarding is a form of magical realism. The skaters are not the superstars we expect from the culture’s recently elevated status as Olympic Sport, but rather, represent more relatable figures, guys you’d skate with in your hometown. The spots, too, exhibit the same mundane qualities that should be familiar to anyone who had to make the most out of a church parking lot, or who scoured the alleyways behind strip malls for a glimpse at a scuzzy loading dock, with the video stringing together various locations throughout the United State that have not, and probably will never receive a spotlight from the skate industry. Even the SoCal locations are not the most famous, but rather, remind us how the sprawl of Southern California often has more in common with middle America than it does with the beaches of Santa Monica. And yet, these utterly mundane locations are somehow transformed by the act of skateboarding, be it in the simplest gesture of leaping from the top of some stairs, or the more complex perspective required to reenvision something as a skate spot. It’s a threadbare cliché to say that skaters see the world differently from other folks, finding value in overlooked and disused spaces. But when skating gets it right, as it does in Star & Moon, it’s totally transformative, endowing our most tiresome public spaces with the absurdist potential of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.

Part of the way Star & Moon achieves this effect is by drawing its aesthetic from a time before skateboard videos were the star-studded highlight reel of athletic achievements, or a globetrotting, cinematic escapade. Instead, Foundation’s more informal style relies on the 90s and 00s-era skate video, which combines influences from documentary, music video, video art, and home movies, resulting in a non-linear, and often improvised composition that reflects the adolescent experimentation at the heart of skating itself. As it did for Toy Machine’s Welcome to Hell (1996) and Jump Off A Building (1998), Alien Workshop’s Timecode (1997) and Photosynthesis (2000), Krooked’s Gnar Gnar (2007) and Naughty (2008), or even some of Foundation’s own historical releases, Star & Moon’s reliance on consumer-grade video technologies lends the footage an uncanny familiarity. B-roll is filmed on handheld digicams, as are a handful of bangers, and even though most of the skate footage was recorded on HD, the prevalence of these aesthetic experimentations, as well as other bedroom-based special effects (i.e. claymation), give the video a seductive moodiness that veers in the direction of art—at least insofar as this stylization cue us to more abstract, nuanced, and gestural aspects of skating, and just generally put you in a different kind of headspace.

 The title, Star & Moon also underscores the video’s symbolic economy, repurposing the company’s 32 year-old insignia to lend a subtle, and even jokey mysticism, evoking the inscrutable quality of an enticingly-named video file mixed with the title of an astrology book. The result is that even the gnarliest clip is softened by an underlying sense of fantasy. In Julian Lewis’s part, that’s because the tricks are far beyond any reasonable scale of gnarliness, as when he bails off the midsection of a gargantuan kinked rail, plummeting feet first down a veritable abyss—no body should fall that far, at least unaccompanied by a parachute or zip line, or, in-keeping with the sense of absurdity, an umbrella. The same disorienting bewilderment accompanies other clips, including his nosedive down an 18-stair rail, or in a similarly harrowing gap to 5-0, the latter of which is so crazy, so ghastly, it actually took my fucking breath away. But it’s not all just questions of scale, as Lewis takes us through the looking glass on an unusual line comprised of a hippy hop and a ride-on nosegrind revert, or when his board breaks in half on a kinked rail, and he simply lands on his feet and walks away. The latter event had a strong effect on me, not because the board comically splits down the middle—or that he avoids getting sacked—but rather, because of the anticlimactic nature of the scene. His casual exit gave me a strong dose of schadenfreude—a not unwelcome feeling in the context of a skate video.

For all Lewis’s spectacular abilities, and harrowing misfortunes, his ender, a front feeble down a 19-stair rail paradoxically brings us back to reality, the clip’s ambient guitar strumming further emphasizing the saggy dailiness in Lewis’s appearance. Clearly, he filmed his ender, the most important trick in his part, while still wearing yesterday’s blue jeans. In spite of the fact that many of the team riders have ridden for Foundation for years, and this is not their first video for the company, I cannot say that I experience the same name recognition with this crew as I enjoy with so many other pros. I don’t necessarily mean this to say that Foundation is fringe, nor do I intend that observation to suggest an opposition to the ego-laden excess you find elsewhere in the sport—I actually enjoy both, and love that skating has grown complex enough to embrace these contradictions. But the special joy of watching Star & Moon is in the video’s ability to return the viewer to a time of more limited scope, when an economy of means forced you to squeeze every last drop of significance out of the artefacts of skate culture that managed to find their way into your life. There was something special in thrifty resilience, and the leaps of imagination required to fill the gaps of your knowledge, and to supplement your experience with a bit of fantasy, much in the the way a skater bondos a crack.
(In this respect, it’s interesting to contrast Dakota Servold’s footage in this video, with his accidental cameo in the recent Quasi release, Grand Prairie. The latter team stalked their peers to some post-industrial spot, where they joke about team manager Mike Sinclair’s ever-fluctuating, and oft-remarked upon weight, and jeer Servold for tossing his board from a balcony after having landed a trick—all as they crouch behind a bush. Bonhomie teasing aside, I wonder why Quasi elects for such a lateral move. Even in good fun, the gesture marks West Coast-based Foundation as interlopers in the Midwest, territory to which Quasi has laid claim. By comparison, Servold’s footage in Star & Moon has a more celebratory nature. The guy still takes huge drops, and even 360 flipped into the same bank as Quasi rider, Dane Barker, suggesting these teams have more in common than one would take at first glance. The similarity also makes Quasi’s laughter appear cynical, though if there is anything to say in their defence, it would be that the Ohio-based company, too, is after a sense of mystery, its means of achieving it having more to do with scarcity, and putting forth an obvious, and antagonistic indifference toward a skate industry that it views as having lost its way).

While there is a material basis for a young skater’s projections, for their modest idol worship, which arises from the alienation of a particular class of suburnite, I still think there’s a fundamental attraction to the surreal and the sublime at its heart—or, if not these, then at least a kind of optimism. I find it in Aiden Campbell’s clip at Slab City. He frontside big heels up a crusty, graffitied Euro gap located in a bizarre semi-autonomous zone that has popped up in the desert outside of Los Angeles—in proximity to this stateless place, skateboarding comes across as another model for living. It’s the perfect setup for the next clip, which spins that same outsider, searching, and self-reliant mentality on its head, making grainy footage of a frisbee look like a UFO against a backlit sky. The role slams play throughout the video also ropes surrealism into the Star & Moon’s overall conceit, with a rib-cage rattling slam from Dylan Witkin and Lewis’ opening leap into the void giving us a dose of body horror, whereas a skittering little slip up from Cory Glick reminds us of the slapstick that is at the heart of a good bail. Freud wrote about the uncanniness of taking a spill. If there’s a good definition of magical realism in skating, it’s in our ability to make an art of falling down.

Perhaps the best example of how Star & Moon elevates the everyday—in both skating and normal life shit—is represented by Corey Glick, a skater who I would never expect to be as cool and strangely captivating as he is—and he is. Like the rest of the Foundation team, the guy does not fit the mold of a contemporary pro skater. He’s kind of short. He hails from Chicago. He’s Jewish. According to an interview in Thrasher, his parents still expect him to go to college. He sports a mustache, and wears thrifted clothes. He has no obvious tattoos. And, though the guy has some serious inborn style, his bag of tricks does not map well onto the more heroic (or dumbfounding) preference for hammers that undergirds the sport. And yet, what he does with his circumscribed (and, presumably, circumcised) talents is captivating, suspending disbelief through a balance of outright bangers, and an attraction to hokey tricks, kitsch spots, and a penchant for oblique angles.
His part, then, comes across like an exquisite corpse, piecing together a variety of influences and approaches that one would not expect to go together, but nonetheless find a curious resonance once they share the same space. In many cases, he skates spots that look fun, stuff most of us could skate, even if his trick exceeds our abilities. If he elects to pluck something out of the grabbag of camp, he fully commits to the bit, so that a frontside salad grind on a curved ledge conveys the full effect of the contorted trick’s louche contrapposto. And if a spot is famous, his approach has a sense of novelty. Delivering a back 180 switch nose grind revert before twisting a frontside 360 down a set of stairs at DC’s Pulaski Plaza, Glick seems to abide some kind of dream logic, in which things move forwards and backwards at the same time. By its conclusion, its effect on me was so strong, I experienced it as wish fulfilment—for what, I do not know—making me wonder once again what Freud has to say about 360s.

And I could go on—like his ability to make frontside noseslides on banks look cool, or how truly miraculous his wallie Barlie grind was. But the point is that Star & Moon is a practical education in skateboarding’s inherent magic, with the sport’s ability to find meaning in mundane reality represented equally by the skaters’ material thriftiness, as by their penchant for ritual. Because, in many ways, that is what skateboarding is: a bizarre set of rites and procedures, mysterious incantations and unusual physical feats, costumes and iconographies, etiquette and idiosyncrasies, all of which somehow bring its members closer to some spiritual understanding of the physical environment. From an anthropological perspective, its purposes are practical—how deep does the cartographical imagination run in a skateboarder, who can identify the exact point on a map via its most generic characteristics, such as a curb, a bench, or even a nice section of flatground? But to its practitioners, these performances animate the world, bringing it to life with a few well placed gestures on a skateboard. Though it’s important to keep these things in perspective—I’m guessing most of these skater’s have day jobs—the meaning gleaned from skateboarding’s underlying rituals nonetheless suggest a complex matrix of associations. This is what we mean when we say skaters see the world differently: the borderline metaphysical ability to lurk beneath the banal details of the real world.