Offside

Itala Schmelz

 

                                                                                                                                      From the catalogue Offside

                                                                                                                                                                          2003

                                                                                                                                                                 Conaculta

                                                                                                                                                                      Mexico.

 

There is not human aspect unrelated to art; sports are not the exception. At the moment, through contemporary practices, several artists have ventured into a reflection about sports, or they have based themselves on sports to make an observation concerning social issues. The current exhibition of Rodolfo de Florencia, under the title of  offside, deals with the political and economic values spanning across the favorite sport of the west: soccer. The exhibit, presented at the Nina Menocal gallery in November of 2002, has on the whole the aspect of a sporting goods store, including as a part of the decoration four logos painted on the wall which, inspired on a Mayan Olín, a symbol of movement, make the rest of the pieces act, characterized by their immobile and silent aspect. Indeed, as an unassembled puzzle, the pieces created by this artist achieve a kind of suspension of the game. The intervened fragments, allow a deployment of connotations to be read into them.

 

Offside: out of position, is a soccer rule, which depends on the referee's criteria regarding the position of the players. This title could not be more appropriate, given that we can affirm that one of the qualities of contemporary art is that it is always located offside. For quite some time artists have used objects as signs; when taking them out of context through diverse plastic actions, they have found unusual manners of reviewing their possible meanings. One of the key strategies of the contemporary artist is the discontextualization of things, that is to say, to amplify their potential of meaning when placing them offside. Transporting the elements of the court toward the gallery, De Florencia takes the space of action toward the space of contemplation,  this dislocation allows us to observe other dimensions, he offers a more analytical level in which it is possible to review the diverse aspects that come into “play” in soccer. Offside, subtly exposes the great business that is behind this sport, in so many privileged circles to manipulate to the masses.

 

Art as well as sports, are two important spheres of society. At one end, art and sports would seem to be very different activities. According to a very narrow definition, art is the cultivation of the spirit while sports are the cultivation of the body. But although these activities have separated supplements in the pages of the newspapers, both are inscribed within the great field of entertainment, as products aimed at leisure time and relief enjoyment. Television channels offer artistic expressions as much as sports events under the same notion: Humanity conceived as a society of consumers. These activities win high television ratings and front pages in the newspapers, blended with ever more pressing social and political situations.

 

The fact that art and sports are presented as separated supplements in the sections of the newspapers, doesn't alienate them from the rest of the social order, the political and economic aspects that move the world. If art and sports are shows, so are politics. Call it bread and circus, in the Roman fashion, or in the Marxist sense, opium for the people. Nowadays, as it is well known, art, sports, politics, science and even religion are fields of action which are media enhanced, distorted, used by power according to economic interests which are, needless to say, voracious.

 

Similar endowments are demanded from an artist as from a sportsman: grace, aesthetics, professionalism, charisma and capacities above simple humans. It makes little difference if the star is a singer, a painter or a soccer player, their public visibility quotes them as market products; celebrities that sell and are sold. The stars of soccer have a price like prima donnas in show business, what is quoted of the soccer players are only their legs. De Florencia makes allusion to this in his magnificent series of eleven acrylics over cloth, titled star players.

 

In these paintings one can see a pair of hyper-developed legs with game socks and shoes, isolated from the rest of the body, on a background of a color relative to the sportsman's team, to one side one can read the player's name and the price he has reached, “this way, paradoxically, the big stars of soccer that enjoy privileges and popularity, are shown as examples of exploitation and labor abuse”, points out the artist himself. The most expensive soccer player at the moment is the Frenchman Zidane, priced at 64.4 million dollars, while the most valuable legs in Mexican soccer are worth 14.7 million dollars and they follow the cerebral impulses of Márquez.

 

A fanatic spirit makes millions of spectators wear the T-shirt of their favorite team. In another one of his pieces De Florencia displays on a counter the T-shirts of such most sought-after soccer players, in which he printed out their price instead of their number. Together with the legs labeled in the colorful style of a sports magazine, these T-shirts complete the artist's idea: the mystique of an almost supernatural prowess and the resulting adoration by the masses, allow, arriving at the sportsman's degeneration, the transformation of the celebrity into an icon for commercial use, into a mass media hero, half muscle and half marketing.

 

Umberto Eco, points out that sports, when they are played, imply a healthy energy release, while spectator's sports are a restraint to the  uncontrollable energy of the crowds. Sports, as a show, become the object of markets, transactions and consumption. The sports press, on its part, imitates political speech and substitutes it, “a verbal ritual where the intellectual energies are exercised and neutralized and where the physical ones are not even in play.”1

 

What is expressed by the Italian thinker, makes us review in parallel two series that comprise this exhibition: the court fragments, extended across the gallery, and the four pictures under the title of soccer ball head. The fresh grass mattress, the green extension of the game field, its regulation areas: the goal, the corner shot, appear to be detached from the stadium almost in a real proportion. A suspicious insistence on including organic material, on using live grass, being that art, the world of the representation, is the Kingdom of misrepresentation. In the photographic series, on the other hand, the artist uses a carpet of artificial grass to improvise a court where a head, instead of a ball, awaits to be a kicked by a player.

 

In these pictures, not exempt of irony, where the ball is a gesticulating head, we sense again that the game has moved: offside; that the action is not only designed in the court but rather particularly in the means of the show and in that the object of the game is not as much the ball as the consciences of the spectators. The artificial mat is the misrepresentation that the show makes of the sport, while the authentic grass induces us to the sensation of the real thing: the living experience, the effort and the passion that activate the game, bearing witness that there is still perspiration.

 

Finally, with the intention of returning to the underlying issues of soccer, to the ethical and human lesson that the practice of sports also leaves us, the most pleasing piece in this exhibit is perhaps an enamel that enlarges to a great scale a picture of the Italian soccer team, world champion in 1982. De Florencia takes advantage of the positioning in which the teams are photographed before the game starts, and he describes with blue neon, as an aura, the silhouette of the azure group. Thus, he highlights what is fundamental about a team, their coalition and unity at the time of the match, the solidarity that can take human beings to conquer goals that individually overcome them.