The European Football Championship EURO 2012, which has just come to an end in Poland and the Ukraine, has been an event of special importance not only for the sport fans, but for the whole population of these two Eastern European countries. It showed how important play is for social life as well as for culture. Already in the 1930s play has been subject to theoretical investigations, presented in the book “Homo Ludens” by Johan Huizinga. In this revolutionary publication, which to this day holds a top place in the social studies departments of most European book-stores, Huizinga discusses culture as not only including play, but also to a large extend as play itself.
Therefore governments and non-governmental organizations, big commercial companies and non-profit institutions, and also museums and galleries in the cities hosting UEFA, decided to play along. During the games we’ve seen photography exhibitions documenting stadiums ( in CCA Laznia in Gdansk), projection of battle field onto football fields (façade of Art Center Wro in Wroclaw), an exhibition of football posters (National Gallery in Poznan), an art festival in a deserted stadium (Survival Art Review),an exhibition of concept-fan-scarves (Warsaw Academy of Arts/ MoMA Warsaw), and many more. Art institutions all across the country have taken this opportunity to encourage new audiences to enter their halls. Is it any wonder? There are by far and away more fans of football in Poland than fans of art. Curiously however, since Poland has much better artists than it has football players: for many years now Polish artists have been ‘playing’ in the first international league, while the Polish football team struggles to survive in the weakest of the UEFA groups.
In Gdansk’s Nowy Port (New Port) suburb, just down the road along which the new stadium was erected, Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art is about to open its new location. Contrasting with the newly build arena, the surrounding suburb is still waiting for its revitalization. Opening a CCA in the old bathhouse (built in 1909) is one of the first steps in the revitalization plan. The official opening of the new art space is planned for the end of the year, but the curators decided to pre-open it for the games, and host a photography exhibition that would relate to the EURO tournament. The Dutch artist, Hans van der Meer, presented a series of photographic works documenting the matches of amateur football teams. The exhibition space has been filled with images of beautiful and quite diverse landscapes – of seashores, deep forests, postindustrial wastelands – in which low league footballers organize playgrounds for their favorite sport. Bearing a reference to the tradition of Dutch landscape painting, this series creates a touching social document, showing determination and true commitment to football as group activity: not for fame or money but for the pure idea of play.
In Laznia’s main center, in a twin-bathhouse in Gdansk Dolne Miasto (Lower Town) another photography exhibition just opened. Chriss Olley presents 92 classic black & white photographs of English football arenas – from huge architectonic blocks of Premiership arenas to less capacious stadiums of League Two. Coinciding with the Euro 2012 tournament and all the controversy surrounding the building of those biggest-ever arenas, Olley’s exhibition provokes reflection on what will happen to them in a few years’ time. Will they be full of life and hold numerous events or will they end up as objects from Kobas Laksa’s artistic project “The Afterlife of Buildings”, serving completely different purposes from those they had been invented for? reads the curatorial note.
Wroclaw, the capital of Lower Silesia, is another city hosting EURO 2012. Here, on the façade of WRO media art center, German artist Kurt Fleckenstein, presents his newest video realization. In this piece the German artist controversially uses the idea of sport and rivalry, reminiscent of the “Death match” in Kiev 1942 and the mass executions of Jews in Babi Jar. The projection shows a video-recorded football match staged by Fleckenstein in Ukraine – footballers play in historic outfits of German 1941 representation, and instead of their own names on their tricots they hold names and dates of places where 20th and 21st century mass murders were committed – Babi Yar, Srebrenica, Hiroshima, Chechnya, Rwanda, Congo, Syria. Amongst them are naked men and women of different ages – every now and then, one of the naked persons falls down viciously fouled by a German player. The work commemorates events of 1941 when Nazi Germans mass executed over 33.000 Jews in Babi Jar in Kiev. It also relates to the legend of the “Death Match” that took place in 1942 in Kiev between FC Start (consisting mainly of Dynamo Kiev players) and Wehrmacht soldiers. The title “Games go on” is a reference to the Munich massacre of 1972 when during the Olympic Games 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered and the International Olympic Committee declared, that “the Games must go on”.
Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art hosts a large exhibition entitled “ New National Art”. Although officially connected to another event, namely to “Solidarity Actions” program of the 7th Berlin Biennale, this show, which examines the national-patriotic visual culture in Poland, could not omit references to football, this most political of all sports. One of the works features a documentation of a football match between Legia Warsaw and ADO Den Haag in 2010, by a group called “Nieznani Sprawcy” (Unknown Doers) and Ultras Legia Warsaw. An important part of the soccer spectacle is its setting, where laud cheering is just as important as the visual layer, constructed with the help of such objects as flags and smoke bombs. The setting, prepared by the fans with a great expenditure of energy and resources, is supposed to express most of all the love for the team, but just as often includes symbols that originate outside of football. In Poland religious symbolism has become one of the areas explored by football fans of local leagues in search for visual inspiration. The game between Legia and ADO, documentation of which is shown at MoMA Warsaw, is a perfect example of this tendency. The main elements of this realization are constituted by an enormous image of Christ and a sign “God, save fanatics” spread along the tribunes.
Alongside the “New National Art” exhibition another project has been hosted by MOMA in Warsaw for the time of EUFA tournament. In a specially dedicated kiosk, young designers had been invited to produce custom editions of fan-scarves inspired by those worn by fans in the stadiums. The project, entitled “More Than Just a Scarf”, tries to create a dialogue with the audience by inviting all to interact and add individual elements to the design, so that the football iconography would mix up with social and artistic elements and create original content.
Though UEFA tournament is not only about the stadiums and fans that fill them up. Preparing the games was a huge challenge for the hosting countries, and the consequences were felt by the whole society. An exhibition ”Genre Scenes Euro2012” in Warsaw’s Propaganda Gallery, which closed just before the games started, aimed at examining the process of preparation for EURO2012 as a catalyst of social change. ‘Genre scenes 2012’ is an exhibition that, through reflection of the great events to come, endeavors to demonstrate troubles, that appeared off the main path, when the public attention was focusing on the question: will we manage to do it on time? Brutalization of relationships, arrogance of the government, growing alienation of individuals and entire social groups are screened with the enormous advertising panel and the grass painted green turns into a large parking lot (from the gallery website)
One of the main characteristics of a play, according to Johann Huizinga, is the time factor: play is not “ordinary” life – but an interruption in it : play needs temporal limits in order to remain play. Not only duration, but also location of play needs to be distinct from the “ordinary”: play needs to have its playground. This year the playground was Poland and Ukraine – although European, still exotic, which added to the fun. It was only 31 games, 1,5 hours each: 50 hours of chasing the ball, and yet the biggest spectacle we’ve seen in our modern history. Now that the play is over, ordinary kicks back in. Not soon will we see football in museum again.
HANS VAN DER MEER European Fields – The Landscape of Lower League Football
15 JUNE – 15 JULY 2012, CCA Laznia in Gdansk
KURT FLECKENSTEIN Games Go On : Kiev, Babi Yar 1941/2012
20-23 JUNE 2012, WRO Art Center in Wroclaw
GENRE SCENES 2012: Tomasz Kulka, Jakub Ciezki
24 APRIL – 06 JUNE 2012, Propaganda Gallery in Warsaw
NEW NATIONAL ART
2 JUNE – 19 AUGUST 2012 , Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
- “Genre Scenes 2012” : Tomasz Kulka (installation), Jakub Ciezki (paintings) , courtesy of Propaganda Gallery in Warsaw
- “Hans van der Meer - European fields. The Landscaper of Lower League Football”, courtesy of CCA Laznia in Gdansk