INCITE LAUNCH / THE NATION’S FINEST curated by Brett Kashmere and Astria Suparak

Thursday May 17, 2018 7:10 PM Oakes 105
with illustrated preview of the INCITE Sports issue by the curators

This program deconstructs the athlete body – how it is used for national, political, and social agendas, and how it is viewed and re-crafted by artists (who are sometimes athletic!). The Nation’s Finest is part of A Non-Zero-Sum Game: Sports, Art, and the Moving Image, a series of exhibitions and events launching, and part of, INCITE: Journal of Experimental Media’s newest issue, Sports.

For millennia, sports have been intrinsic to daily life, physical well-being, education, civic identity, and social harmony. That presence has expanded in the last century to occupy entire sections of newspapers and news hours, in turn begetting 24-hour television channels, talk radio stations, and endless punditry devoted to sports. We contend that over the past decade, sports have assumed an even larger, more multidimensional place in our culture, advancing, for instance, further into the fields of contemporary film, art, and media. This move, facilitated by projects such as ESPN’s prominent 30 for 30 documentary series, the founding of sport film festivals, a rise in sports-themed gallery exhibitions, and the births of Twitter, sports blogging, and localized, fan-driven websites like those comprising SB Nation, is reflected in the ongoing legitimation of sport within the academy. As Jennifer Hargreaves noted in 1982, although “Sport has traditionally been accorded low academic status in higher education… there has developed an increasing interest in sport as a cultural phenomenon” which carries through to today.



Just as sport has been embraced by artists across mediums and genres, so too has it been taken up as an object of study, broadly; traversing physical education, communication studies, the social sciences, and more recently, the humanities. A new academic subfield—critical sport studies—has emerged in response to this swell of cross-disciplinary research. As a result, the traditional schisms, and often times, antagonisms between sports performance and spectatorship, creative production, and scholarly activity (jocks vs nerds, square vs cool), have been blurred. Sports are now readily assimilated into pop culture, celebrity culture, music, and fashion trends. In this program, we look at five decades of artists’ video and film focusing on sports, including perspectives across gender, racial, and national identities.

Nam June Paik’s Lake Placid ’80 (1980), officially commissioned for the Olympic Winter Games, is an unruly and ecstatic video that is slyly subversive, whereas Keith Piper’s Nation’s Finest (1990) mimics the look and tone of state propaganda with a silky, biting critique of the way predominantly white countries use black bodies in the service of national pride while simultaneously disenfranchising their black residents. Haig Aivazian’s How Great You Are O Son of the Desert! (2013) delves further into the tragic and deadly consequences of white supremacy with examples from the 2006 World Cup Final to the fields of a Parisian suburb.

Tara Mateik’s reenactment of the historic 1973 “Battle of the Sexes,” playing both “chauvinist pig” Bobby Riggs and equal pay advocate Billie Jean King, is mortared with hyper-gendered advertisements of that era. I AM A BOYS CHOIR highlights the insidious sexism of sports commentating, particularly with the objectification of female figure skaters, with panache and sarcasm. Lillian Schwartz’s computergraphic film Olympiad (1971) presents us with a nearly gender-neutralized (then, meaning on the masculine end) and anonymized symbol of an athlete to inspire and uplift. The program begins and ends with recent GIFs of confounding skill and precision from a university cheerleader and a 19 year old monk in a deep Zen meditative state.

– Astria Suparak and Brett Kashmere, Curators



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