VISUAL ARTS – Basil Sellers Art Prize 4 (for Sport) – Samstag Art Museum – 3.5K

By Peter Maddern

This exhibition presents the short-listed entries for Mr Sellers’ 4th biennial Art Prize that aims to combine two of his passions; art and sport. The Samstag web site talks about sport being ‘a recurring theme’ in Australian art but it has hardly been a prolific one. Indeed, beyond your standard sports photography that litters the back pages of the print media, one is reduced to just a very few pieces that hold any sort of recognition in the Australian visual art consciousness.

Clearly, sport ‘art’ needs to do more than capture the ‘decisive moment’ (though of course that concept has spawned more than 70 years of notoriety for the genre) and seek to present a narrative and some meaning for what is captured. In that, for this reviewer at least, this means an intense focus on the actual rather than the imagined for there is plenty to take away and mull on in the execution of organised sport beyond winners, losers and calf strains.


From Narelle Autio's Nippers series

From Narelle Autio’s Nippers series

With that bias noted, two works stand out with the first being Narelle Autio’s triptych of surf live saving nippers attacking the water. At first glimpse, Nippers reminds one mightily of her partner, Trent Parke’s images also taken from beneath the surface of the water, where the swell of the swimmers’ impact creates turbulence disproportionate to the attention paid to it by the creators involved. In Autio’s work the lithe and gyrating bodies of the nippers make for big, bold and fresh images that are both celebratory and respectful in equal measure. The nippers’ imminent resurfacing also feeds into impressions of ‘babes in the womb’ about to be given birth to their roles, as generations before have, of attending to and keeping our beaches safe year after year.

Wonderland by Khaled Sabsabi is a 25 minute lightly edited video focused continually on the cheer squad of the Western Sydney Wanderers during the course of a game. The Wanderers have been somewhat of a phenomenon in the A League, coming into the comp just a few years ago, attracting and galvanising together various ethnic groups and being successful with it (though the bubble somewhat burst this year with their somewhat distant second last performance.)

Still from Wonderland by Khaled Sabsabi

Still from Wonderland by Khaled Sabsabi

The video captures so much information about the demographic and psychological profiles of the supporters. Some are there to sing, some to watch the game, some, like the suspect looking shirtless guys standing on the fence out front, enjoy the afternoon with their backs to the game. Yet, the dynamic exists only because of the Wanderers and what that team, their colours and this mateship (and I don’t think there are any women in the mass) means to this group. So, whatever any single person’s motivations may be for being there, they are accorded equal respect (even if they constantly obscure another’s view of the game itself!)

Wonderland? Well, yes, with this title Mr Sabsabi has totally understood and conveyed what impact of being part of such an afternoon and group can mean; for the younger ones these days will form memories that will live for them gloriously for the rest of their lives.

Perhaps with more distance from visual reality but highly successful in dealing with sport’s undercurrents is Tony Albert’s Once Upon A Time which takes us back to the dark days where indigenous footballers were the subject of constant abuse from fans. Indeed, the starting point of the exhibit is the notable day the Australian public was forced to take notice of the issue when St Kilda footballer Nicky Winmar declared he had enough by baring his chest to the mob and pointing out his pride in his race.

Sadly, as the press will now highlight, the racist practices continue, though somewhat abated, but when prominent commentators can be allowed to get away with it, what hope does the right thing have of ever prevailing? But like Mr Albert, we all live in hope.

Those interested in their sport will find the Basil Sellers Art Prize a worthwhile challenge and those looking for decent ‘art’ in sport will also be well rewarded.

Kryztoff Rating 3.5K

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