Let’s imagine that Sports, Fine Art, and Politics are people and they all end up in a room together. All three know each other, probably though mutual exes or college roommates. It’s not like they don’t talk, but they don’t get together on their downtime for drinks, either.
Now think about the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games. It’s a sporting event, but one that has been heavily endorsed by politicians. An event where Toronto’s infrastructure has changed to accommodate the events, and accessorized with a wide variety of arts-related events.
Now don’t get me wrong—I like sporting events. But as the Art Gallery of Mississauga’s exhibit Be a Sport suggests, there is more going on than just the games.
My favourite piece was NRA Sponsored Rhythmic Gymnastics Competition by Diana Thorneycroft. This series of three photographs first intrigued me because of the different approaches it encourages. I first read it left to right, like a comic strip, only to realize that it works the same right to left and centre outwards. The centre panel features a half-dozen Ken-type dolls doing a rhythmic gymnastics routine in pink tutus and leotards. They are obviously American, from flags to national symbols—an eagle sits on the grass in front of the performers. To their right, the French stand looking at them, dressed in blue swim trunks, chests emblazoned with a large F. To the left stand the Canadians, clad in red shirts and snow boots. In the background, a Mountie figurine points a little girl in the direction of the American team.
Oh, and I forgot to mention—a few Ken dolls are carrying guns.
To me, this piece is about nationalism and competition, but it’s also just plain absurdity. The pictures are funny, yet awkward. Nothing like this ever happens and yet, in a way, it does. There is a performance art aspect to sporting events: tickets are sold, seating arranged. And there is a military aspect too—the competition is all about where you’re from and who you’re rooting for, not to mention the concept of “beating” the other country’s team.
A fourth photograph on the wall, that in fact has nothing to do with the previous series, shows a green field on which American football players and Canadian hockey players engage in battle. A comment on how sports are treated with as much reverence as war, this piece also shows the conflicts that occur between Americans and Canadians—on and off the field
Another piece that caught my attention was Weber and Schneider’s Wimbledon-inspired quilt and video installation. A quilt with a green background and white lines covers the floor to represent a tennis court. At opposite corners, two TV monitors face each other. Playing on both is a video of two girls (one per screen) wearing sweatbands and swaying back and forth in the frame. Periodically, they emit the grunting noises tennis players are known for, though on a half-hearted scale. The product is almost sexual, which admittedly has me feeling a little uncomfortable. I don’t really want to stand around and watch, and yet, as I walk through the galleries, this is the piece I keep coming back to.
I think Be a Sport is one of the most challenging shows I’ve seen at the AGM. It’s hard to be passive; this show forces the viewer to have an opinion.
The Art Gallery of Mississauga is comprised of three galleries: here, two rooms have been dedicated to Be a Sport. The third currently houses a photography exhibit, showing yet another side of the elusive Pan Am Games.
Assembled on the walls are individually framed photographs, all in plain standard size.
At first, I wonder who took all these pictures and why, but my question is quickly answered by a blurb on the wall. Each picture was taken by an amateur photographer, and there is one photo per country that participated in the games.
I like this exhibit for a couple of reasons: first, it provides insight on daily life as seen by an inhabitant of the country in question. It also makes the Pan Am Games about something other than sports—it’s about people, their nationalities, and their lives. It highlights the human side of things.
However, the layout is problematic. Countries are grouped together, by no obvious logic, on three walls. And in order to look up which photograph corresponds to which country, I have to keep going back and forth to the little map on the wall.
The Pan Am Games have a right to their place—both critiqued and idealized.
Be a Sport runs at the AGM until September 13.