None of the art in this issue is about football, but it uses football’s microcosmic, reflective abilities to lay bare the world.
I’ve finally got my hands on the latest issue of OOF—the art and football magazine. It is number four of the series, each football programme sized issue full of short, sharp pieces exploring connections between art and the beautiful game.
The featured work by British photographer Juno Calypso takes her fascination with Baker-Miller pink into the changing sheds. Her staged self portraits as an injured player in a pink painted changing room are bodily and visceral—all flesh tones, knee high socks, mud and blood, torn satin shorts. They also turn on all of the codes of football and art—the later teased out in a long ball text by art historian Ben Street which tracks a history of pink (a Team Pink) going back through the history of art via Dan Flavin, Roni Horn, Velázquez, and Guston, before picking out with pinpoint precision Fragonard’s The Swing (1767) to return us to the issues at play in Calypso’s work.
This edition seems to centre around the architectures of football reconfigured through art. Calypso’s real interest is in the potential psychological effects of her colour and its real world applications—most famously, its deployment in the Santa Clara County Jail to pacify inmates. The specific hook for this series is Norwich City FC’s painting of the opposition’s changing rooms pink, seeking advantage by lowering their testosterone and aggression levels. Rivals Sheffield Wednesday countered by covering the walls with white paper. Last season, Norwich won fifteen of twenty three home games on its way to promotion to the Premier League. This season, the dressing rooms have been returned to white. So far, the club has won only three of its twelve home games—due, of course, to tougher competition than any nullifying of the advantage they gained through the power of pink. Right?
Other architectures of football include a piece on the recently completed project For Forest by Klaus Littmann—an almost believe-it-or-not realisation of Austrian artist Max Peinter’s drawing of a futuristic stadium where spectators go to observe and support nature as spectacle. Littmann planted a forest of 299 trees in the stadium of SK Austria Klagenfurt, who were forced down the road. There is also a feature on a mural at Arsenal’s Highbury stadium commissioned to cover the North Bank stand as it was redeveloped in 1992. The scene? A simulated crowd—inanimate fans sitting at their seats, animatedly cheering on their team. Photographs of games played in front of the mural—only five metres behind the goal—are bizarre: real players performing for painted fans, who perpetually respond to a different game to the one playing out in front of them. Defender Lee Dixon recalls the eerie lopsided sound that this architecture created, where at one end of the stadium the celebration of the fans was visible but mute.
Both projects have been subject to different political pressures. Once reveled, the mural’s major oversight was clear. Arsenal, in the heart of North London, has always had a diverse supporter base, and its two star players at the time were black. All the painted fans were white. Following fan criticism, a more ethnically diverse crowd appeared overnight. Others followed. Women were added, then nuns, Sikhs, and even a rival Manchester United fan. Following a rather bizarre complaint, children were painted the same colour as the nearest adult. Littman’s stadium of trees has faced different pressures. When newly successful neighbouring team Wolfsberger AC were in need of a larger stadium, the obvious candidate down the road was full with a pesky art installation. The project became the target of right wing politicians and their supporters. There were protests, Littman was physically assaulted, and the stadium had to be put under 24/7 guard following recurrent threats. The lines between art, football, and politics are too tight for even the sharpest of VAR decisions.
Another text covers the Cool Couple’s Emozioni Mondiali (2018)—a playable football game with twenty custom-made teams representing different periods and movements from the history of art. You can play as the Renaissance (featuring Leonardo as the flashy no.10), against the abstract expressionists with a daunting frontline of Stella, Pollock, and De Kooning (this can only go the Lee Bower/Kieran Dwyer way), or perhaps even lead the Romantics to a deserved victory over the bolshy YBA’s.
The work is created within a PS4 and on the game Pro Evolution Soccer, which itself is locked into a storied rivalry with EA Sport’s FIFA series. Pro Evo is the purist’s choice, but, unlike its rival, cannot afford expensive image licences. Its players and teams are all bastardised versions of the real thing—almost right, but always a little off. To counter this, the game is almost entirely customisable. Everything can be edited: the names and appearance of players, their skill settings, strips, and badges. Littmann might enjoy the potential to customise stadiums, while, as if taking lessons from Arsenal mural debacle, the look of a team’s supporters can also be edited.
The Cool Couple exploit this customisable function to make art—something the developers would never have envisioned. The detail is astounding. Each avatar more than matches the look of their artist (Picasso looks a little slumped and oh so tortured). Not wanting to echo the biases of art history, they ensure that women artists can take the field by pushing the customisable function to make female players out of the male avatars. Despite the popularity of women’s football and the success of the recent world cup, Pro Evo does not currently include women players or leagues. When it finally does, a call to Juno Calypso might be a good starting point. Emozioni Mondiali also skilfully matches playing and art styles (are the Chapman brothers—hilariously a pair of centre-backs— really that aggressive?). Specific formations echo the ambition and flair of each movement or player, while market values approximate auction prices. The strips are things of beauty. The post internet team spearheaded by Jon Rafman has a vector-based/camo pastel combination strip (very Raf Simons), while the futurists play in shards of bright, clashing colours.
Talking about the futurists, perhaps my favourite element in OOF is the art history corner, where a historical work with a football theme is discussed. This time, its Magritte’s La Représentation (1962). Last time it was Boccioni’s Dynamism of a Football Player (1913) which captures the dynamic swirl of energy and movement of a player in motion. Writer Quinn Schoen puts it well: ‘To see the player as Boccioni does requires a fundamental re-evaluation of sight and motion’. The same goes for the Cool Couple’s Emozioni Mondiali. It’s a great work, a worthy successor to Douglas Gordon’s Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait (2006), the champion of football-based art works. In a twist on Emozioni Mondiali, its subject—Zinedine Zidane—was often described as an ‘the artist among footballers’.
As an art and football fan, OOF really hits a sweet spot for me. But this issue almost seems to be custom made for me. My team is contemplating a pink strip for its upcoming season (as a corrective to an earlier phase of ‘ironically’ punishing misdemeanours through the wearing of pink accessories.) I’ve previously had to sit out a season after breaking an ankle on the field, where I mainly sat on the couch reading art books and magazines, and endlessly customising teams on Pro Evolution Soccer.
Thanks OOF. Bring on Issue 5.