Review: The Steven Bradbury Memorial Invitational

Image: Jack Rodgers / 2016 / installed at The Laundry Artspace

Words by Miranda Hine

The dirt floor entrance to The Laundry Artspace is a trip hazard tonight. Barely visible black strings stretch tight at shin level between concrete poles. Unaware visitors enter, some stumbling on the string, some embarrassed to have touched the art, most confused by the change in the rules of where you can and cannot walk. Zoe Knight has created a game of uncomfortable and very physical negotiation. The games are underway.

Australian speed skater Steven Bradbury took home the gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, after his four competitors all fell on the final lap. He is the ultimate underdog, the stuff of Australian dreams. The Steven Bradbury Memorial Invitational is a playful look at the mammoth pedestal upon which Australians prop sport. The show’s nine emerging and established artists delve into the all-consuming culture of sport, focusing on spectators, commentators, gender issues and the dichotomy between sport and art.

In their own tiny, dimly lit room, Kristian Fracchia’s small-scale sculptures of men are clothed in bathing caps, goggles and swimming trunks. They’re poised atop absurdly tall podiums, ready to dive…into what? Each male swimmer is isolated on his own podium, denied the zenith of Australian sport: the team. These sculptures are the flawless consummation of Fracchia’s flirtation with sport and competition in his recent graphite and paint works.

Further into the under-house space, Luke Kidd’s landscape paintings blur the distinction between organic and constructed environment. The sand bunkers and sweeping greens of a golf course are just distinguishable among the trees and idyllic skies. These works capture the tendency for human beings to manipulate the natural environment to cater for their own leisure pursuits, while also proposing the golf course as the new ideal of beauty.

Camille Serisier and Parallel Park both address female athleticism. Serisier’s work is a close-up video of the artist’s face making racing car sounds, displayed on an iPad and decorated with a paper helmet and driving goggles. Serisier has taken on the persona of early Australian motorsports champion Mrs J, repositioning this forgotten heroine as a contemporary role model removed from stereotypical female pursuits.

Parallel Park’s video work features the two artists, Tayla Haggarty and Holly Bates, as female tennis players sliding balls seductively into pockets and licking their lips in slow motion as they prepare to serve. Alongside the video, sports bras and tennis skirts cascade from an open locker and a poster of a naked woman is pinned to the door. The work’s comical execution draws attention to the absurdity of how female athletes are treated in the media and the wider sporting arena.

Next to the open locker hangs a blank piece of paper, the bottom of which reads ‘this is a drawing of all Eddie McGuire’s female friends’. On another wall, crayon drawings of commentators Wally Lewis and Gus Gould boast the respective captions ‘Wally is an objective journalist’ and ‘Gus is a biased sack of shit’. These are the brilliant works of Jack Rodgers, in which he turns the commentary away from the sport and onto the structure of the sporting world. They reflect the age-old Australian tradition of spectators commentating on the commentators, yelling at the TV from the comfort of the lounge chair, telling the ref how to ref and the players how to play.

In the backyard, this lounge chair participation is explored more literally in Yannick Blattner’s rows of camping chairs, each screen-printed with the slogan Born to Sit. The work positions spectating as a sport in its own right, highlighting the platform for mass consumption that spectator sports provide.

Alex McGovern’s work challenges Blattner’s, providing an attractive choice for viewers to progress from spectator to participant. A handmade minigolf course features the Story Bridge and a CityCat as obstacles, alongside dolphins and the Kangaroo Point Cliffs. The work evokes the inexplicable pleasure we derive from seeing a sporting event, team or figure representing our hometown.

As always, The Laundry provides an embedded display context, enhancing the works and their congruity, and trouncing any pristine gallery space. The flawless integration of the works with the domestic, familiar space under a Queenslander accentuates sport’s tendency to permeate our lives and our homes, whether we ask it to or not.

Skilfully executed by curator Alexander Kucharski, The Steven Bradbury Memorial Invitational is a playful look at Australia’s complex and obsessive relationship with sport, and its many participants beyond mere winners and losers. It also re-examines the rarely discussed connection between art and sport. What if Australia had the same obsession with art as it does with sport? Adam Friend’s poem, Spectrum, in the exhibition’s catalogue reads:

Drawing, though it does not raise a sweat, has a musculature of its own

What is more Beautiful; the gait of Bolt, or the path of Da Vinci’s hand?

Anyway, are art and sport that different? We came to see the exhibition, we looked at the works, we talked about them, we played minigolf, we drank beer. It was a damn good game.