Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Trophy Wife

Elvis Richardson
Field Study #1 2007
Archival Pegasus Print, 40 x 45cm framed
Courtesy the artist & James Dorahy Project Space




Elvis Richardson
The impossibility of losing in the mind of someone winning S.T.G.C. 2007
Found trophy, burnt and re-silver plated, 13 x 13 cm
Courtesy the artist & James Dorahy Project Space

One of my greatest childhood regrets is not being sportier. I always envied those kids who would have cabinets upon cabinets of sporting or breakdancing trophies. I always imagined being awarded a medal for fencing, even though I never fenced. I suppose the annual School Rock Eisteddfod at the Sydney Entertainment Centre was more my forte – and admittedly that was as spectator than participant. Then there’s ArtExpress? I never made it in, but I did appear acting in a friend’s video artwork in the late 90s and that made it in. But unlike Hollywood, the auteur is everything in the artworld and the actor is regarded as shit-like.

I guess I’ll have to settle for being a trophy wife.

Feelings of regret for being a total loser when it comes to trophy acquisition (or lack thereof) came rushing back to the fore when visiting Elvis Richardson’s show at James Dorahy Project Space, The Impossibility of Losing in the Mind of Someone Winning. Richardson has been working with trophies for awhile now and they’re not her own. A total op-shop whore, Richardson mines the second-hand market place for abandoned trophies and makes them her own. She’s a collector of the kind of stuff no one wants or needs. I mean who the fuck wants someone else’s token of triumph displayed on the mantelpiece, let alone a complete strangers. But artists get off on reimagining the detritus that was once a treasured icon of achievement. For instance, Nicholas Folland also uses trophies and sport memorabilia in his work, to wryly comment more on defeat than the usual elation associated with winning. I'm even reminded here of Tracey Moffatt's great series Fourth (2001), where the artist lovingly photographed from her TV screen the almost winners (ie losers) of the 2000 Sydney Olympics as if the coverage was a found object just waiting for an artist to come along and reclaim it. Found objects in art always work so well when they carry with them the burden of displaced meaning. That’s my fancy faux academic way of saying that once the object screamed to the world, “I’m a winner” while now it reeks of apathy and amnesia; what was once so revered is now a lacklustre footnote. And what’s even more pathetic is that unless these objects end up in the hands of a clever artist, they sit at the op-shop as bitter reminder that Joe Citizen once won a tennis tournament, but he’s now either downsized or dead.

Richardson plays with these tensions beautifully in her work. You may recall similar themes pervading her ongoing Slide Show Land work, where 35mm transparencies are reclaimed and reconfigured from the dustbin of history we call eBay. In this body of work, Richardson has taken a bunch of trophies and refashioned them by burning and recasting them. The resulting works are bent out of shape rendering them sad and comical at the same time, like they’ve been polished one time too many. Imagine the maid took a line of speed one morning and over-polished the trophy cabinet in one particularly manic moment of hard-core hygiene - that’s what these readymade sporting sculptures look like. In a country that privileges sport over the arts, it’s great to see an artist like Richardson forcing sculpture onto sport. A nominee in the Basil Sellers Art Prize, which asks Australian contemporary artists to reflect and engage with sport, Richardson is something of a contender because she reminds us that despite its obvious and enduring emphasis on physicality, sport is potent as one of our leading elements of cultural and social life because it is a stage for unfettered emotional melodrama. It’s safe to say that today’s triumph will inevitably be tomorrow’s defeat and Richardson’s repurposed signifiers of sporting prowess blur the edges around these supposedly extreme states of victory and loss. Therein rests sport’s greatest paradox: a trophy always needs a shelf; a winner never wants a shelf life.

4 comments:

Skanky Jane said...

This work of Elvis' gives me goosebumps. And I am drooling over this: That’s my fancy faux academic way of saying that once the object screamed to the world, “I’m a winner” while now it reeks of apathy and amnesia; what was once so revered is now a lacklustre footnote. And what’s even more pathetic is that unless these objects end up in the hands of a clever artist, they sit at the op-shop as bitter reminder that Joe Citizen once won a tennis tournament, but he’s now either downsized or dead. Fucking brilliant. Thanks Artswipe.

I once melted (found) hubcaps over a fire in the backyard - not nearly so good as Elvis' work (not nearly even at all) and not so good for the environment either.

Inspirational!
SJ xx

Skanky Jane said...

This was one big drool for me, from start to finish. I love this work and the way you have written about it. SJ xx

Anonymous said...

Yep, agreed. Elvis is my hero.

Kate Smith said...

i agree also