Artists, punks and climbers: Dr Julie Angel interview

julie

If you’re interested in parkour and watch a shed load of vids, you’ve probably heard about Julie Angel. If you’re into social sciences and lifestyle sports theory, you’ve also probably heard about Julie Angel. She works closely with Parkour Generations and holds a PhD in parkour film. Her latest series of short documentaries focuses on a new urban phenomenon: buildering. (Bouldering on buildings – clever, right?) And while some crazy guys were already doing it more than 60 years ago in Cambridge, not many people know what it’s all about. So the first vid from the series features the chief geek and builderer Andy Day patiently explaining buildering foundations. It also features me falling of a wall.

I caught up with Julie over tea to ask her some nosy questions.

Who are you? I’m an independent filmmaker, which means that I generally make films that I wanna make.

What about? Over the last nine years the starting point for most films has been parkour, which was a part of a practice based PhD project.

How did you get into that? I had a friend who was making a film about pool skaters in Southern California and I helped him out. We did a project together, so I was spending time with people whose lifestyle involved a combination of looking at urban spaces in interesting, creative ways and having a physicality about it at the same time. They were all artists and quite punk, but they were just very physical too.

Is buildering like that? If the physical part of parkour is finding a route (running, jumping, climbing) and passing over, under and through obstacles, exploration etc. then yeah, as a climb buildering would be a part of parkour. But in the lived experience of it there are really clear differences and distinctions. What people like Bobby Gordon-Smith or Andy Day have pointed out to me is that for a lot of climbers the idea is to go and do a climb. You achieve it and tick it off the list. There is no constant repetition and return. Whilst in parkour there is a different mind-set of a constant state of preparation. It can be about facing the unknown, or about existential questions of fear, of yourself, or just finding out where you’re at today. Am I strong, or am I weak?  Is it fun?  Am I scared, etc.?

There are some commonalities too. It’s a creative vision; it’s a reinterpretation and imagination. It’s you deciding what you’re going to do in a certain space. I guess it’s mostly the creativity of it that really appeals to me as an artist and the strength and facing fears that inspires me on other personal levels.

Are you gonna do more projects about urban climbing? I’d love to do more. I love the detail; the fact that a pebble can change a climb. I like the stillness and I like the cooperation that I see between people when they go out. In buildering people are really spotting each other. They care. Everyone’s solving a problem together. For a lot of people I know in parkour, it’s the same. But in buildering it’s really present. And I like the pace, the timing of it. For me it’s an introduction to even more creative visions of urban spaces.

Do you practice parkour or climb yourself? I train parkour when I can. But I must say that these days I enjoy training with women more than with guys. It all comes back to these elements of cooperation. But I know some really cooperative guys too! (Laughs.)

I only tried climbing a couple of times, but it’s actually been indoors and this idea that I have to pay for something and I need some shoes and this and that… Conceptually I like the idea that climbing is really accessible, but the reality for me was, well, that it wasn’t. I think it would be interesting to start climbing, just buildering. It really inspires me!

Where do you live now and what are you up to? I don’t live anywhere right now!  I’m having an international transient year of people, life, places and filming.

Thank you! 

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A little bit of resources:

You can buy ‘Ciné Parkour: a cinematic and theoretical contribution to the understanding of the practice of parkour’ by Dr. Julie Angel here. The only buildering dedicated website is buldering.net. If you fancy a bit of history, get yourself a copy of ‘The Night Climbers of Cambridge‘. A related exhibition by Thomas Mailaender can be seen on Roman Road until late October. For contemporary buildering photograhy visit kiell.com. The second film from the buildering series features the super strong Bobby Gordon-Smith and can be found here.

There is nothing else to know. Go climb something now.

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