Championing the art of sport

The worlds of art and sport are often painted as occupying separate or competing ends of Australian culture. Adelaide artist Meg Wilson is shifting the goal posts.

“There are an incredible amount of similarities between art and sporting culture,” Wilson says. “They’re obviously both forms of entertainment, but they’re also both cultural mediums that have enormous platforms for social awareness and change.”

From running a marathon entirely within the confines of a CACSA gallery in 2015’s You Will Only Ever Be Any Good If You Can Run The Marathon to installing a pop-up squash court inside Vitalstatistix, Wilson has placed sport at the centre of her art.

While preparing to curate ACE Open’s Sports Day-themed summer party this month, Wilson engaged with figures in South Australia’s football and netball communities. She says that the most interesting observation came out of a conversation with a footy player/coach.

“As far as he could see, the main difference between art and sport is that we don’t very often all stand around together and cheer at a painting and wear that painting proudly on our t-shirt, and how sad it is that art sometimes misses out on that true camaraderie and spirited excitement.

“This blew my mind,” she says.

Carly Snoswell, Since 1989 (Photo: Steph Fuller)
Carly Snoswell’s Since 1989 takes on the ritual of banner making (Photo: Steph Fuller)

From crepe paper banners to the mythic narratives overlaid by booming TV voiceovers, our sporting codes are often dripping with layers of symbolism, imagery and performance – consider the nationwide discussion around the cultural and symbolic meaning behind Adam Goodes’ on-field war dance. It’s a world of meaning that is ripe for artists to explore.

“I see sporting codes as microcosms for humanity,” Wilson says. “Even just the rituals and superstitions that are associated with sports are a goldmine. Many sports are also becoming more progressive in their attitudes even though sporting roots in Australia have not always provided a playing field steeped in equality. Because we largely know this as an audience, sport as a medium easily builds an artistic language that allows vast exploration within a very simple structure.”

Wilson’s work as a designer has seen her create sets for Windmill Theatre, State Theatre Company of South Australia and Restless Dance Theatre. The experiences helped inspire her to draw on actors, artists and audience members to bring her athletic art installations to life by playing the part of umpire, media and rivals. Last year’s SQUASH! saw Wilson adopt the intense, Iggy Azalea and Kanye West-inspired sports villain persona of ‘WILSON’ to face off against unsuspecting members of the public.

Team Trampoline, Meg Wilson, (Photo: Steph Fuller)
Team Trampoline, Meg Wilson, (Photo: Steph Fuller)

“I think that the WILSON persona was actually just a heightened version of myself,” she says. “The initial inspiration for SQUASH! was the Battle of the Sexes tennis matches between Bobby Riggs and Margaret Court and Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. It became an absurd and sexist campaign and grand stand spectacular event. The main impetus behind my project was to utilise the generation of hype and speculation in order to create a monster, or the vision of a monster – a character we all love to hate.”

For ACE Open’s Sports Day, Wilson will install a 10×10 metre turf oval in the Lion Arts Centre courtyard, inviting spectators to participate in a nostalgia-inducing installation inspired by the retro tabletop game Test Match while artist Carly Snoswell creates banners ahead of a mass netball-football hybrid sports match.

“Most importantly, we’re inviting audiences to step up and form part of one of these teams to play in a once in a lifetime event.”

ACE Open Summer Party: Sports Day
Saturday, January 19

ACEopen.art

Header image:
Bryony Jackson

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