Aleksandra Mir

Pursuit of Perfection: The Politics of Sport

South London Gallery, July 2012


27 July - 14 September 2012
South London Gallery, London

Michel Auder / Roderick Buchanan / John Gerrard / Lucy Gunning / Janice Kerbel / Aleksandra Mir / Jonathan Monk / Ariel Orozco / Paul Pfeiffer

Please note: the torch relay also passes the gallery on 26 July

A spectacular display of 2,529 trophies by Aleksandra Mir, a state-of-the-art simulation by John Gerrard, and a scratch video collage of the 1984 LA Olympics by Michel Auder, whose early subjects included actors from Andy Warhol’s Factory, are just three of the works on show in the exhibition, Pursuit of Perfection: The Politics of Sport.

Pursuit of Perfection brings together art works which, in different ways and to varying degrees of seriousness or wit, play on some of the issues raised by sport, the politics surrounding it and its representation in the media. Spanning the SLG’s main and first floor galleries, the recently vacated Southwark Old Town Hall and off-site events on three local housing estates, the exhibition also marks an important moment in the history of the South London Gallery’s programmes as they extend into a range of social settings as part of a new long-term initiative entitled SLG Local.

Aleksandra Mir’s Triumph, 2009, creates a stunning spectacle of 2,529 trophies collected over the course of a year in Sicily. Taking ten people several days to install, this extraordinary array of trophies, dating from the 1970s onwards, are displayed individually and in groups, on scores of plinths, as well as piled up in huge heaps of glittering detritus across the SLG’s main exhibition space. Exposing the tension between the symbolism of the trophy as indicative of accomplishment, versus its physical reality as an often-garish, mass-produced item of little value, Triumph is also a powerful visual statement of our tendency towards nostalgia, and the temptation to dwell on memories of past youth, vitality and joy.

Also made over the course of a year, Exercise (Djibouti) 2012 is a major new work by John Gerrard, first presented by Modern Art Oxford as part of the London 2012 Festival. This highly sophisticated simulation, made using the latest motion capture technology, is presented as a large scale cinematic installation in the atmospheric setting of the former council chamber in Southwark Old Town Hall. Originating in found documentary images of US military exercises in Djibouti (Horn of Africa) and informed by research into athletic achievement, the work reflects on the relationship between competitive sport, military training, theatrical performance and dance. Neither completely synthetic nor strictly real, the work exists in ‘real time’ (Djibouti: GMT +3 hours), orbiting over a yearly cycle that incorporates the movements of sun, moon and stars.

In stark contrast, Michel Auder’s low-tech video collage was composed of clips which he filmed directly from the TV as he watched the 1984 LA Olympics. Focusing on the human body, eroticised and mechanised in its pursuit of perfection, the film has been described by Auder as “an ode to human flexibility à la pelvis”, combining his unabashed crotch gazing with a deft use of scratch video. Also in the former Town Hall, Janice Kerbel’s Ballgame (Pregame), 2009, sound piece introduces another take on media representation of sporting events through a specially scripted baseball game commentary, beautifully delivered in honeyed tones by a voice-actor, with perfectly dead-pan wit.

Smaller scale works in the SLG’s first floor galleries present often humorous responses to one of the world’s most popular games, football. Roderick Buchanan’s video 83/03, 2003, reflects on the newspaper reportage of matches from the perspective of the losing team, while Jonathan Monk has manipulated newspaper images of critical moments in various games to shift the position of the ball. Paul Pfeiffer’s triple video piece is shown on three monitors, each one featuring players in either plain red, yellow or blue shirts, to create a mesmerising performance of dives and falls through a montage of televised action on the pitch. Lucy Gunning’s video The Footballers, 1996, coincidentally made in the year when women’s football was first recognised as an Olympic sport, documents a performance in which two women wearing utilitarian dresses, shin pads and studs play football in an empty gallery space. Relating to a longer-term performance work, Ariel Orozco’s photograph shows a neglected stray dog which went on to became a local celebrity in Mexico City when the artist had it tattooed with the hexagonal markings of a football.

When sport is omni-present both in London and internationally, this timely show flies in the face of assumptions that art and sport do not mix. Works born of artists’ fascination in the relationship between the two are brought together to present alternative and, at times, quirky interpretations of an unavoidable and ultimately weighty subject.