The former Visions member revisited his 1998 ‘Back To Worlds for Words’ performance on its 20th anniversary
Long before the Palace boys assembled their Wayward Boys Choir, and the girls of the Skate Kitchen had taken to the sidewalks of New York, Mark Gonzales was blazing a trail for a new generation of skaters to come. Taking his skateboard off the ramps and out onto the streets of cities around the world, Gonz – as he’s better known – is one of the scene’s most revered figures, fusing performance art with ollies and kickflips, and bringing skating to a wider audience over the course of the last 30 years.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of an avant-garde performance Gonzales presented with Johannes Wohnseifer in Germany, as captured by filmmaker Cheryl Dunn and documented in short Back Worlds For Words, alongside footage of him hitting the pavements of NYC. According to Gonzales, the project was coincidental, and followed a chance encounter with Dunn.
“I’d been going to ballet classes, which was pretty cool because it helped my skating a lot in terms of foot placement and setting up for tricks and stuff” – Mark Gonzales
“I met Cheryl in NYC in the mid-90s,” he explains. “She was hanging on the steps of where Equinox is now, on the corner of Spring and Prince Street. I was leaving my buddy Harmony Korine’s place, which was right there at 68 Prince, and I just started talking to her.” The two became friends, with Dunn – who’s known for her gritty, lo-fi documentation of youth and subcultures – often following Gonzales around and shooting him skating in the years that followed.
The performance itself came about in a surprising way, according to Gonzales. “I’d been going to ballet classes, which was pretty cool because it helped my skating a lot in terms of foot placement and setting up for tricks and stuff,” he says. “But more than that, I had this strong feeling of how everything comes from the ground up. A lot of people learning street ollies for the first time try to jump and make the board go up, but it’s kind of the opposite. You have to push down hard on your board to come back up with it, it’s a simple dance. I wanted to show a kind of fluidity and grace with Back Worlds for Words.”
Soundtracking the film is a spoken word piece, also composed by Gonzales. “I was doing a reading at a school while we were over in Germany, in Cologne, from my book Broken Poems,” he explains. “It was funny because I was someone who couldn’t stand school and there I was doing a book reading. Afterwards though, when I’d finished, I took a leap off the stage without really knowing how big the drop on the other side was. I think it caught the kids off guard and they kind of understood what it was about at that point.”
Now, to celebrate the film’s anniversary, a re-edit has been released, as the skater recreated his original performance at New York’s Milk Studios. Cut with clips from the 1998 version, the short also heralds the release of a new sneaker, designed in collaboration with adidas Skateboarding, who he’s been working with for 20 years. The Aloha Super nods to skate’s roots in surfing, with panels made from the material used in fencing suits – a reference to the costume Gonzales wore as part of the art piece.
“I think skating might be about to get more extreme. I can see the next generation combining high speeds into what they’re doing now. Doing stuff at super high speed, that’s almost unbelievable and probably life-threatening. Would I want my kids to skate? Not really” – Mark Gonzales
When asked how skating has changed since the film was released, Gonzales explains that he thinks people are a lot more open to it. “I still see it as a rebel sport and an art form,” he says, “but people are much more willing to give it a chance. I think skating might be about to get more extreme. I can see the next generation combining high speeds into what they’re doing now, which would mean closing down streets so people standing around don’t get hurt. Doing stuff at super high speed, that’s almost unbelievable and probably life-threatening. Would I want my kids to skate? Not really. But of course, they’ll probably disobey me. We’ll see.”
Watch the original 1998 film below, and the 2018 cut above. The Aloha Super drops online and in stores August 18.