Vladimir Film Festival

Pat­rik Wall­ner interview

20 / 9 / 2022 / Interview

Inter­view by Filip Tenšek

I’ve read some­where that your uncle had bought you your first skate­board on a trip to Croa­tia while you were already liv­ing in the US – where you had relo­cated to from Ger­many. Back to where it all star­ted, eh? We’re really glad to have you here in Croa­tia with us this year.

Full circle, indeed. I wish I could find the kid who did this kick­flip in front of me and thank him for the rico­chet effect. It was on a tiny marble square some­where by the port of the island of Rab, back in the sum­mer of 2001. Like with many oth­ers, that kick­flip trans­lated to magic in my eyes and spir­alled into a life-long obses­sion to skateboard.

It seems that from pretty early on you were already trav­el­ing across the globe… Are there still any pock­ets of this plan­et left for you to uncov­er? Also, I’ve seen your map with many dif­fer­ent pins and your cata­loguing skills look really impress­ive. I guess you have to be metic­u­lous when you’re doing research, doc­u­ment­ing, edit­ing and then archiv­ing your work. Your art­work in the Paper Trails series also shows symp­toms of this OCD-ish approach, could you tell us a bit more about this coin­cid­ent­al con­nec­tion? Is that a prac­tice you learned on the way?

As a child, I was really intrigued by the car­toon ‘Tintin’ who traveled the world. Also my moth­er used to be a geo­graphy teach­er, so maps were omni­present through­out my childhood.

Ever-chan­ging bor­der­lines was always a crazy concept for me. Once I turned into a young adult and star­ted doc­u­ment­ing and film­ing skate­board­ing, it just made sense to entice my child­hood thirst of exploration.

I was always pulled towards the East, hence why I am liv­ing in Hong Kong right now. My pro­jects have taken me pretty much to almost all nations here on this side of the plan­et, but I still have a big open can­vas on the West­ern Hemi­sphere; South and Cent­ral Amer­ica. I some­times beat myself over the head when I real­ise that I have been to Kaza­kh­stan for example three times or North Korea four times, but have not vis­ited Brazil yet (haha). I guess the time will come. Regard­ing your ques­tion of being metic­u­lous, I just don’t see anoth­er way of keep­ing things intact without being sys­tem­at­ic. I am con­stantly doc­u­ment­ing, but I am also for­get­ful, so I need a strict order to make sure everything is archived prop­erly. I guess some people could call that OCD (haha) same going for the fold­ing of bank­notes for Paper Trails which can be really time con­sum­ing. How­ever after a while it becomes second nature and I find myself fold­ing while social­ising after din­ner with friends or while watch­ing TV.

I’d like to talk a bit about your approach to film­mak­ing. Aside from great skate­board­ing on won­der­ful spots by the likes of Kenny Reed, Michael Mack­rodt, Laurence Keefe and oth­ers, Visu­al­trav­el­ing is about storytelling and par­ti­cip­at­ing, as vis­it­ors, in dif­fer­ent cul­tures. Now, it’s not a new thing that cap­it­al in expan­sion likes to use non-west­ern cul­tures as a col­or­ful back­drop for its activ­it­ies, and skate­board­ing, as seen in many dif­fer­ent com­mer­cial videos, cer­tainly is a vehicle for some com­pan­ies, if not all, to try and expand. A secur­ity guard wav­ing his or her hands, ped­es­tri­ans cheer­ing, a skater point­ing his fin­ger as he sees a beau­ti­ful old build­ing – almost uni­ver­sal tropes show­ing us not much more than plain tour­ism. But then, there is a way of pro­du­cing an inform­at­ive and respect­ful skate doc­u­ment­ary – skateu­ment­ary as you’ve called it — which exam­ines dif­fer­ent coun­tries in a more humble scen­ario, while using com­pany funds. I cer­tainly see Visu­al­trav­el­ing as oper­at­ing in that tiny niche and genre. I guess what I’m really try­ing to talk about is the eth­ics of film­mak­ing. How do you see this issue? Did you ever have any dif­fi­culties with either con­vin­cing the spon­sors or recon­cil­ing this issue with­in yourself? 

Even with­in our sub­cul­ture, I def­in­itely see trav­el­ing being over­sat­ur­ated for com­mer­cial use. How­ever, when we (under Visu­al­trav­el­ing) fin­ished our ’10,000 Kilo­met­ers’ DVD back in 2009 which took us from Moscow to Hong Kong all by train, we knew we had to keep going clock­wise around the Euras­ia super­con­tin­ent. It was this inner-desire that wasn’t even just driv­en by skate­board­ing, recog­ni­tion or mon­et­ary gain, but just by curi­os­ity. Then just like with cook­ing, we had the right ingredi­ents for a story; a dis­tance place that not much people knew about and the angle of us dig­ging through the streets to find ran­dom pieces of archi­tec­ture, that could gift us with a front­side crooked grind or a crusty wall­ride. All Visu­al­trav­el­ing trips were self-fun­ded by every­one on board, so we had the power to do whatever we wanted. We would often hold ser­i­ous talks on where to go next. For example in Uzbek­istan we real­ised we got black lis­ted for Afgh­anistan, so we had a demo­crat­ic vote and decided we should go to Afgh­anistan. No spon­sors breath­ing down our necks, just curi­os­ity and want­ing to know what across the next border.

Cul­ture, espe­cially in rela­tion to tour­ism, almost unan­im­ously tends to be por­trayed as some­thing vibrant and rich. Yet, we know cul­ture is far more com­plex – cul­tur­al hege­mony, glob­al and loc­al polit­ics and deep inequal­ity in access to cul­ture for people from the lower classes and undeveloped coun­tries are often left out of the pic­ture in ser­vice of images which cre­ate pop­u­lar wishes and demands. Instead of show­ing the dis­tilled, some­what neut­ral ver­sion of cul­ture, your skateu­ment­ar­ies show dif­fer­ent social struc­tures and pro­cesses which are at work in the coun­tries you are vis­it­ing, and I’d per­son­ally like to see more of it in skate­board media. Do you feel a per­son­al oblig­a­tion to por­tray a more truth­ful ver­sion of cul­ture, hav­ing been in so many dif­fer­ent coun­tries and cul­tures? Do you think your style of ‘report­ing’ has changed over the years? 

Skatument­ar­ies are a strange being, they don’t hold the journ­al­ist­ic integ­rity, since they fea­ture skate­boarders not report­ers. They also lack a nar­rat­ive which is painted by a polit­ic­al stance. I lit­er­ally have emo­tion­ally filled skaters who are over cause they have been sleep deprived, horny and deal­ing with sprained ankles, after a four to five week jour­ney. At the end of the trip, I have to inter­view them and grab the sound­bites which are pair­ing up in my head with the visu­als I have cap­tured. Instead of get­ting polit­ic­al (since often that would hinder a second return to that nation) I tend to focus on the cul­ture. People, cus­toms, tra­di­tions speak for them­selves. When we were in Bangladesh, we didn’t have to say that it was one of the poorest coun­tries in the world, the images spoke for them­selves. And hon­estly, we were focused on skate­board­ing from 10am till sun­set in most coun­tries, I am sure if we had inter­viewed people and had more of an agenda, we could have came back with more pre­cise inform­a­tion than skate­board­ing fused with a bit of geo­pol­it­ics. How­ever, our audi­ence was mainly skate­boarders that were more thrilled to see the nitty gritty, in terms of skate­board­ing than news. I did often want to bridge and trans­ition out of mainly skate­board­ing nar­rat­ive and focus more on the loc­als which we star­ted doing with the Africa pieces.

I’ve read that 30% per­cent of the pro­ceeds from your show in a gal­lery in Hong Kong went to dif­fer­ent NGO’s involved in skate­board­ing, such as Push­ing Myan­mar or Salad Days. That’s really great, how­ever, I think that it’s an excep­tion in the art world. It may have to do as much with the fin­an­cial struggles of insti­tu­tions such as museums and gal­ler­ies as it has to do with ideo­logy, but now in the 21st cen­tury, for example, some are still reluct­ant to return and repat­ri­ate colo­ni­al and imper­i­al cul­tur­al arte­facts. This may sound a bit exag­ger­ated, but I’m try­ing to high­light the his­tor­ic­al cost of our exper­i­ence of cul­ture. As an exper­i­enced world trav­el­er, what would you say are the best prac­tices of giv­ing back to the com­munit­ies which you’re visiting?

It just felt like a bit selfish to enter this world of Art without giv­ing back to the sub­cul­ture and skate com­munit­ies in coun­tries that need it the most. I am an advoc­ate of sys­tem­at­ic dona­tion. People are often turned down by the fact that you don’t really know where your money goes. How­ever any­time in a crisis, you see ‘World Food Pro­gram’ or ‘Doc­tor without Bor­ders’ at hand. The great thing with donat­ing to the SkateN­GOs which I picked is that I actu­ally know all the of them. I have met people they help and know it will do good things. So for me to donate 30% in Hong Kong and 50% in New York felt like the right thing to do. I have a day job being a film-maker, so art isn’t my main income, just a hobby which has had sur­pris­ingly a good recep­tion. So far I have raised in total roughly 20,000 USD for ‘CubaSkate’, ‘Make Life Skate Life’, ‘Push­ing Myan­mar’ and ‘Salad Days’. Hon­estly, I was sur­prised myself.

In my opin­ion the best way to help is to just help in any­way one can.

If it means you fly­ing to Ran­goon, Myan­mar and skat­ing with the loc­als for two days and leav­ing your board there before going north to check­ing out temples, that is one way that is easy and con­veni­ent for every­one. You crunch your thirst for explor­a­tion, you teach Burmese kids some new tricks and don’t need to carry your skate­board for the rest of the jour­ney (haha). But com­ing up with a form of art and then sav­ing a chunk for pro­ceeds to help NGOs is not a bad idea either. Every­one can do it!

OK, let’s talk a bit about your exhib­i­tion, The Decay­ing Stars. First, how do you feel among the Hong Kongers and the struggle they are going through? Or the struggle all of you are going through? It’s weird for­mu­lat­ing this ques­tion, but you’re not exactly an out­sider because you have been liv­ing there for some time now, right? But, at the same time, it’s a much broad­er dis­cus­sion about iden­tity and a sense of belong­ing. How do you feel about it? And how has it been doc­u­ment­ing the past three years?

It is a touchy sub­ject, since Hong Kong has become my home, but has also lost a lot of its core which made it such a fas­cin­at­ing city to live in. As I am writ­ing this, it is still morph­ing and we don’t really know which dir­ec­tion it might head. It is cer­tainly sad and incase I want to leave, I feel priv­ileged that I have such a great pass­port which has open bor­ders to most part of the world. Since act­ing our polit­ic­ally or voicing your opin­ion has totally dimin­ished over the last two years, I think my pho­to­graphy will sum­mar­ise how the city feels at the moment; a bit lost and in a struggle of iden­tity in a nation which is not a nation, but rather holds an expir­a­tion date, being 2047.