‘It Propels One to Actually Go Out Into the World and Explore’: Watch Sculptor David Brooks Link Skateboarding to Art Making

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "David Brooks Hits the Pavement." © Art21, Inc. 2017.

What does skateboarding have to do with contemporary art? For sculptor David Brooks, both hinge on pivotal moments that provide what he describes as “a reality check.”

“Skateboarding for me was the most fulfilling when you would find a new situation in an urban context,” Brooks explains in an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of the “New York Close Up” series. “It propels one to want to actually go out in the world and explore.” Similarly, the artist’s large-scale installations also shift one’s perspective, and draw attention to the urban, built landscape, and the natural world.

When Brooks moved to New York to attend the Cooper Union in the early 1990s, he explored his new surroundings on his skateboard. Though, as a kid, he had dreams of going pro, eventually Brooks turned to art and began a practice centers around investigating the relationship between humans and culture, and the built and natural environments they live in.

In the video, Brooks recounts some of his major works, including Preserved Forest, an installation at MoMA PS1 in which the artist planted dozens of trees and then sprayed and poured concrete over them in an attempt to recreate the deforestation of the Amazon.

“We’re so desensitized to imagery of violence, both in terms of a landscape, but also in terms of a culture” Brooks tells Art21, describing the project as a way to “tether reality right back to it, just like skating, there is no ideology behind hitting the pavement.” 

Installation view of “David Brooks: Continuous Service Altered Daily” at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in 2016.

Another project the artist mentions is Continuous Service Altered Daily (2016), where he disassembled a 1976 John Deere combine harvester, and arranged the hundreds of parts for display. Combines are used to cut corn, break down kernels off the cob, and clean the grain, Brooks explains in the video. Similarly, “the exhibition breaks apart this piece of machinery into thousands of pieces.” 

Right now, at the Planting Fields Foundation in Oyster Bay, New York, an exhibition of works by David Brooks is presented alongside art by Mark Dion, who also investigates complex ecosystems. The show, titled “The Great Bird Blind Debate,” will see both artists present interpretations of bird blinds, used by birding enthusiasts to observe their subjects.


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. 

The Great Bird Blind Debate” is open now at Planting Fields Foundation in Oyster Bay, New York. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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