Skybox was a solo presentation of works by Harrison Wayne, organized by Eso Tilin Projects, a mobile exhibition space in Atlanta, GA.
I had no idea what to expect when I parked in the small side lot of the College Park First Methodist Church on August 26, the only day the exhibition was available for viewing. I wasn’t sure I was even in the right place until I saw the large plywood skate ramp propped against the stairs leading up to the entrance. Walking through the double doors, I heard hard wheels rolling and grinding over metal and wood, along with the occasional crash. The sounds echoed throughout the sanctuary’s tall walls with stained glass windows.
The 12:1 Eso Tilin exhibition space was by the altar. The small gallery stood at my eye level and was large enough for only three people to peer in at once. Miniature wooden skateboard ramps and metal grind rails were positioned within the maquette. Ten petite decals of stained glass windows lined the walls of the interior space, reminiscent of those towering nearby. On the back wall was a small screen—this is where the sounds are coming from.
In collaboration with Joshua Sattan, Wayne displays a playable level of Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (2004). With a GameCube controller mounted on the side of the exhibition space, viewers were invited to play as an avatar whom Wayne designed to capture the likeness of his mother.
Clumsily using the GameCube controller, I skated around, attempting tricks, and fell quite a bit. The sounds of my gnarly wipeouts filled the sanctuary just like an organ would. I quickly realized the digital environment was familiar. The level was a spectacularly detailed and accurate model of the very sanctuary I was standing in. Using images provided by Wayne during his studio tenure at this church, Sattan reconstructed the entire space and enhanced it to become an impressive Tony Hawk skate map.
A handful of other pieces were scattered around the larger space, complementing the Eso Tilin exhibit. Seaside girl, a large graphite rubbing of one of the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, hangs down from the balcony and folds over on itself, rolls down onto a pew, then lands on the ground. The piece is hard to miss. Seaside girl depicts simplified silhouettes based on the iconic imagery of Christ walking on water as a disciple reaches up from the waves below. An image typically mounted above our heads is now at eye level, almost wholly recontextualized if not for its current setting.
A corkboard displayed printed screenshots of the skybox, the digital 3D model of the church it inhabits, floating and surrounded by clouds and blue sky. The images elevate the space and transform it further into an abstracted crucifix-shaped object. Presentation (Williams 1914), a small wooden cross, is mounted on the back side of the cork board. It reads “Nowhere you! Everywhere the electric!”
Skate parks are like religious spaces—essential gathering sites for many. The church can be an uncomfortable space for people, but the playfulness and accessibility of the work recontextualized the hallowed ground, making it welcoming. The multiple transformations of this physical church, from rubbings to the infinitely variable digital map, show Wayne’s concern with preservation. These acts of record-making reveal the artist’s great care for this space and an archival approach to his own personal history. Wayne’s work is energetic, humorous, and sincere.
Skybox transported me to a place of nostalgia, fondness, and longing for a church I’d never visited, a game I had never played, and a person I was never able to meet. The interactive and site-specific quality of this work was ephemeral. Like a memory, the show was passing, only available to us for a moment, or a single day, in this case. However, unlike the fickle and fleeting nature of remembering, this space has been perfectly memorialized in a digital afterlife, just waiting for someone to drop in.