by Amber Berson
The idea for this program has been kicking around for a while (pun most definitely intended). I’ve long been fascinated with the notion of sports fandom. What about watching sports makes people go a little crazy, get rowdy and, more importantly, become patriotic? I’ve seen the most passionate anti-border activist develop nationalistic preferences during the Olympics and FIFA World Cup, even while criticizing the fact these games contribute to structural imbalances at all levels of society, that they further impoverish the masses while generating capital gain for the elite, that they are by definition, imperialistic. So why, then, do we get so into them?
When I started developing World Cup!, soccer was the third most widely played sport in Canada and the fastest-growing one. Football fever is spreading fast and I’m not the only one noticing. This exhibit brings together an international roster of artists who use soccer as a means through which they can explore larger issues related to our individual and collective relationships to patriotism and nationalism.
AAA, a performance by arkadi lavoie lachapelle (QC), puts gender and celebrity into play with issues of sexuality and physical fitness. Herself a former high-level AAA soccer player, lavoie lachapelle will perform a solo game of soccer for 90 minutes, each day of the exhibition. In this new work, lavoie lachapelle will begin the performance by shaving her head and then will perform semi-nude with a ball painted to match her skin tone. She has produced a site-specific installation that references the FIFA field, but on a significantly more intimate scale. Her project is to disrupt the notion that a team sport isn’t really about celebrity, putting a feminist twist on the very notion of sportsmanship while playing with the theatrical performativity of the game.
If lavoie lachapelle’s project is a study of the singular body, then Onyeka Igwe’s (UK) video-based work Sung is a consideration of the collective one. The work complicates the strategy of patriotic soccer chants by subverting the lyrics and disassociating tunes from their regional specificity. Creating a medley of popular songs like Angels by Robbie Williams, Freed from Desire by GALA and My Achy Breaky Heart by Billie Ray Cyrus, Igwe’s Sung asks the viewer to directly implicate himself or herself in the project by singing the words. Exploring how an otherwise benign song can become a political weapon when placed in certain contexts, Igwe questions our complicity in nation building when we participate in “innocuous” sporting fan subculture.
What first drew me into soccer was the spectacle of it - not just the spectacle of the players, but of the fans themselves. Questioning why we invest ourselves in regional alliances and why certain national narratives speak to us is at the core of the two works that follow. Whereas Null Ace’s work considers the global, Sheena Hoszko’s (QC) work is concentrated on a more local, political positioning and the disavowal of state structures. Presenting three new stained glass panels suspended by chains, Gold, Red, and Blue, depict an inverted crown, maple leaf, and Fleur de Lys. The individual flag-like panels are a direct response to the rise of far right groups in Quebec and Canada over the last two years. Stained glass is part of the visual language of settler nation-building in Canada -- its presence denotes a building of value and importance, often linked to church or state -- a history that speaks to Quebec’s violent Anglo-Franco histories and the white supremacist actions currently taking place in this province and country. In 1909 a catalogue of popular stained glass patterns was created to provide buyers across the USA and Canada with a vernacular of designs specifically linking the art’s heritage to a British history of glass pattern-making. These patterns, reflected in the materiality, scale and visual culture of Gold, Red, and Blue, were not only for churches, but for the windows above front doors in apartments and homes, protected by Montreal renovation codes to this day.
The cross-border collective Null Ace (CA/USA) will be presenting XX, an interactive installation that builds on an experimental work initially addressing the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. XX juxtaposes the spectacle of football with the injustice of structural violence by pitching players from countries in political and armed conflict against each other on the soccer pitch. The game appropriates and repurposes content from popular soccer-related video games, like 1990’s Kickoff 2 for Commodore Amiga and the cross-platform eponymous FIFA series, while using a dynamic and potentially contradictory image of the protester in the role of the player. By presenting open-ended yet carefully crafted juxtapositions, XX asks us to think through the ways in which the international consumption of soccer contributes to global capitalism and war, where investments can reinforce nationalistic divisions and systemic marginalization. XX works to subtly trouble the ways in which we passively consume the game.
In addition to the works presented in the gallery World Cup! will be host to two artists’ talks, one taking place during a soccer match. We will also present a soccer-anthem karaoke event following the collective viewing of a FIFA World Cup match. Soccer is an incredibly political sport - both on an off the pitch - and we hope now, in the gallery too.