This set of shows has marked the end of Success. Closing with a round of mini-golf, the accompanying show ‘plugger’, curated by Emma Buswell, was appropriately sport themed. Of particular interest in this show, and emblematic of the role that Success has fulfilled, is Gabrielle de Vietri’s Three Teams. It is testament to the gallery that it has been able to bring so much internationally and nationally important art to our eyes, and I am truly grateful to this space for what it has done, and everything it has achieved.
The work proceeds from a simple premise: to alter the format of Australian Rules football by including three teams on the ground at once. The artist, to achieve this, approached members of a rural community (Horsham) and their football teams to discuss the tactics and form of this new sort of game. While typically the situation of consultation, where the artists already have an idea of how the work will appear (i.e. there will be three goal posts and three teams) is a banal part of the work, it becomes enlivened in this work through the process of people’s interpretations, ever more complex, of the dynamics of the game.
Games, and particularly sports, are bizarre practices – they possess the logic of a space separate from reality. Lines and shapes separate it, certain rules delineate it from the world. It is a making-imaginary of the world, a game that is real, in its performance and actions, yet imagined, in its rules and separation. Sport, however, is prone to leaving its field of play, and entering reality in dramatic and fantastic ways. The lines that delimit their boundaries are permeable, their influence extensive – as George Orwell reminds us in his criticism of the idea to bring the Russian football team to Britain in 1945, which served only to deepen tensions. But to understand the potential of re-shaping the game they must, before they enter reality in a direct manner, function as models, as some form of abstraction.
A game that seems to illustrate this best is the Kriegsspiel. This is a game developed by Lieutenant Georg Leopold von Reiswitz and his son Georg Heinrich Rudolf von Reiswitz in 1812. It is meant to represent, and indeed translates as, ‘war games’. The principle feature of this game was its verisimilitude – the kriegsspiel was developed to train young officers in the arts of war. (In 1987 Guy DeBord produced ‘a game of war’ or ‘kriegspiel’ which he considered would have the longest and most important influence of all his works. It was similar in practice to the prior kriegspiel, but technically divergent: supposedly a more accurate representation of the difficulties of mapping and planning a campaign.) The kriegspiel serve to show us not that we can represent reality through a game, but learn and enact a state of play. How do you see the world then, if imagined rules can execute great harm and good to many people? How can you separate the kriegspiel from reality? It is simply an imaginary delineation of elements from the real. War is the real kriegspiel. This does not make it any less of a game though. The logic is the same, only the consequences are real.
The nature of games is to model certain aspects of reality, or certain activities, and perhaps we can understand football in these terms too. Though ostensibly for entertainment, the parallels to Hollywood cinematic narrative and football games are informative: the opposition of two teams, the display of physical prowess, an almost invariable leaning towards showcasing the physical prowess of the male. Sport gives a certain kind of narrative, and one that informs a great many people’s ideas of entertainment – and perhaps ideas of other narratives too. Danish artist Asger Jorn apparently developed a three-team European football game in the 1960s as a way of explaining his theories on Marxist dialectics, and a rough re-shaping of the simple narrative of football.
It is exciting to see a work like this being produced in Australia, a work that at the very least extends the narrative capabilities of such a cultural institution as football. Three Teams does not dismiss sport or attack it as so much critical thought does (see George Orwell) but takes the assumptions that underpin the game of football and expands them.
One of the clearest moments of difference, and that begins to demonstrate that this approach may have some complex political results is when one team kicks the ball to a member of another team – yet because they are aiming for another goal, it gets the ball out of their defense. Truthfully, the most interesting problems are the hypothetical ones that could be set up, if Thee Teams were to be played in a full round. Then, there would be issues to do with the possibility of working with other teams to direct play away from your defense, the forming of potential alliances. Though in the actual enactment, the game looks messy and out of control, the figures on the ground merely focused on the immediacies of the play, there are hints of this complexity that emerge from time to time.
These issues are fascinating to watch unfold, even more so in the planning and consultation phases of the game, where people attempt to get their head around the possibility of a more complex field. The various models that are put up as suggestions for play provide a glimpse into the mind of the people who watch and play football. It is this hypothetical stage that provokes the beginnings of a serious thinking about what is possible in our understanding of this field of play. Even in the physical game, the unfamiliarity with the construction leads to difficulties, but opens up understandings of further possibilities, the complexities of alliances and rankings. This game does not perform as an exact model of anything, yet changing its narrative does challenge the form of a game that dominates too much of our lives. To open up the field to three teams invites a level of complexity typically unavailable in team sports – of working with, not only against; perhaps not an oppositional formation, but a collaborative one too.
by Graham Mathwin