Tag Archives: sports

New Exhibition Texts – Hazel Meyer and Karen Kraven

This May I had the chance to write exhibition texts for two shows in Toronto. Both shows are still up if you’re in the city and have a chance to check them out.

The Shape is Unmistakeable, 2015, lino block printed on a Vandercook press, 12″ x 18” (middle panel of a triptych). Printed by Olga Wieczorek under the auspices of the Open Studio Visiting Artist Residency, 2014-15.

 

The first is Hazel Meyer‘s The One About Baby at Open Studio. The text is available online here (PDF).

With the works shown in The One About Baby, Hazel Meyer explores disparate objects and moments united by her method of drawing-as-care for what is devalued or unnoticed. Documenting the eroticism of “minor” events in the artist’s life and reading practice, this work emerges as a pervert’s archive of throwaways—outdated ads, old porn magazines, pin-buttons, empty plastic bottles, discarded lesbian comic books, cut-off hair—rescued by drawing and insisted upon through the creation of prints.

The second text is for Karen Kraven’Flip Flop, Punch Front at Mercer Union, which gave me the chance to write about gymnastics uniforms. It’s available online here (PDF).

The gymnastics leotards in Flip Flop, Punch Front are also devoid of bodies, stretched in ways that discourage potential wearers. Shannon Miller and her peacock-like hand gestures are nowhere to be found; instead the garments are willfully still. Sara Ahmed has described the peculiar relationship between gymnastics and the will: more than any other sport perhaps, gymnastics is training through which limbs are finely shaped by an athlete’s ability to control their muscles according to routine.[i] Gymnastics leotards are containers for all that will; without muscle and movement stretching their contours, they lose some of their essential leotard-ness, becoming something else altogether. Like Jordan’s wingspan and Rigby’s splits, a leotard is the potential to be stretched, constructed in proportions much smaller than the bodies they cover. Anyone who has squeezed into a leotard will be familiar with the compression-anxiety of confronting an impossibly tiny garment on its hanger: “That thing is going to fit over me?” Kraven’s uniforms are displayed in various states of stretch and repose, but these accommodations have not been made for a body.

[i] Sara Ahmed, Willful Subjects (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 83.

 

“Not a game, Not a game, Not a game”: Outline of Some Theories of Practice

My old friend and colleague Dylan Mulvin and I have a piece in the new issue of Seachange journal. It’s about practice, which we define as “the repertoire of necessary and repetitive activities that precede ‘performance’—activities that are ignored, elided, and generally taken for granted because of their necessity and repetitiveness.” As long-time friends, sports fans, and mediocre athletes who have often practiced together, we consider a range of practice-related sites: drills, pre-game rituals, dissertation writing, comprehensive exams, the academic job market, and our (middling) jump shots. Ultimately we ask whether sports practice, in its often-deferred promise of improvement through the production of habit and bodily comportment, might help us better understand the complex pleasures and disappointments of ascending toward academic careers.

I’m very proud of this dialogue and very happy to have had the chance to collaborate with Dylan. We’ll also be presenting a panel together at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies this weekend in Montreal. It’s called “What was the Database” and it also features a paper by Kate Eichhorn.

Feminist Computing #5: Martina Navratilova’s Tennis Computer

Last month I gave a lecture at Toronto’s Trampoline Hall titled “The Many Wives of Martina Navratilova.” The talk, part of a night curated by Jon Davies, had little to do with my “real” research but it was a lot of fun, and what came out in the wash was this quite lovely entry for my collection of feminist computing stories.

The Coaching Computer

“Robert Haas, the man who programmed my nutritional needs, and an associate of his have designed and programmed a tennis computer that I have used from time to time. The computer is fed an entire tennis match about thirty times, analyzing and breaking down the points stroke by stroke until previously unseen patterns become evident. What we look for in this breakdown are my patterns and those of my opponent. We find tendencies. Perhaps one top player will continually hit a return to the same spot at break point, or hit the ball harder, or perhaps slice more when down. What the computer has pointed up is that when the pressure is on, players stay true to their tendencies, and this knowledge is helpful against patterned players such as Chris Evert Lloyd and Tracy Austin. By understanding both my game and that of my opponent, I feel as though I have a far clearer insight into what my future matches might hold. The computer is a good accurate scout.”

– Martina Navratilova, Tennis My Way (1983), p. 190.

Text for Muscle Panic

I had the privilege this summer of writing a text for a project called Muscle Panic by toronto-based artist Hazel Meyer, presented by Mercer Union as part of their offsite programming, in partnership with Sunday Drive Art Projects. Hazel used her brilliant brain and expert hands to transform a barn in rural Warkworth, Ontario into an imaginary “after-hours sports club for Muscle Panic, a rogue girl’s basketball team in need of a space in which to train, scheme, and otherwise spend time together, often at night.” The text was for the team’s Handbook.

Sports is one of my favourite topics, and I don’t get to write about it pretty much ever, so this was a lot of fun. Here’s an excerpt:

Time Out

Part installation, part performance, part absence, somewhere in between “real” and imagined, we encounter Muscle Panic through the material remnants of the team’s practice and play: the uniforms they sweat through and peel off, the custom basketballs waiting to be dribbled. Is this a long-abandoned clubhouse, or might the team walk into their makeshift gym at any moment and start running drills? Either way, something about this whole thing feels a bit illicit. We are intruders, trespassing in the sacrosanct space of a team who prefers to meet at night, when we’ve all gone home and no one is around to supervise. Muscle Panic plays in a time and place that is willfully unclear, deviating from the “normal” rhythms of recreation, broken off from the clarity of either “past” or “present.” The fantasy gymnasium becomes a “simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live,” a space in which the hot smell of bodies hangs in the air.[i]

[i] Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias, October (1984 [1967]).

 

Audre Lorde Goes Fishing – Recreation and the Feminist Body

This is very minor but very wonderful piece of information uncovered during my current archival research at the New York Public Library:

In 1981, Audre Lorde was presented with the Gay Book Award of the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force (now the Stonewall Book Award), for her memoir, The Cancer Journals. The adjudication committee described the book as having, “the poignancy and immediacy of this black lesbian poet’s responses to physical and emotional trauma… This effort to retain control of her body, to preserve her sense of herself in a changed body, is intelligent and inspiring.”

Instead of a trophy or certificate, the Gay Task Force would present each recipient with a personalized token to honour their achievement. Audre Lorde was presented with the following “token”: “a set of fish hooks (for her favorite pastime).”

Jason Collins and the Sporting Homonational

As a huge queer and an equally huge fan of sport, I was totally brought in by NBA centre Jason Collins’ Ellen Degeneres-style “Yep, I’m Gay” announcement yesterday. But instead of feeling excited, pleased, even ambivalent, I felt mostly dread and anger from the minute a friend sent me the article, moments after it went up on sportsillustrated.com.

The story of North American sexual exceptionalism that is being used to frame the Collins story is what troubles me the most. Jasbir Puar has called this “homonationalism,” the idea that the civic embrace of “alternative” sexualities is testament to a broader progressive modernity, one that is coded as white and set against images of Muslims and Arabs as “non-modern” and “homophobic.” These are the new perverts, pitted against the new Gay Normal, epitomized here by Collins. He is everyman, jock, upwardly mobile African-American, and hardworking, journeyman center who puts his body on the line 82 games a season, taking charges like a not-faggot.

Bill Clinton’s statement (Collins and Chelsea Clinton were bros in college) epitomizes the GAYSARENORMAL, GIVE THEM RIGHTS ideological formation to which the Collins story was quickly articulated, including its biopolotical, citizen and family-making function. Said Clinton, “It is also the straightforward statement of a good man who wants no more than what so many of us seek: to be able to be who we are; to do our work; to build families and to contribute to our communities. For so many members of the LGBT community, these simple goals remain elusive.”

It’s not just that I would rather Collins had worn Venus Xtravaganza’s number on his jersey instead of Matthew Sheppard’s, or that I wish this story wasn’t overshadowing the one about Brittney Griner, dreamboat lesbian basketball hero; rather it’s that I’m skeptical about what it is that this representational politics about sport and non-normative genders and sexualities actually offers as a critique of the institutions in which it operates.

Sports is purportedly the great equalizer; a site that is often thought to transcend, even resolve class and racial antagonisms.  It is precisely this everyman—not everywoman—quality that shores up the ways in which professional sports is enmeshed with some truly awful politics; the kinds of things that queerness should work to oppose, such as the celebration of militarism, the racialized exploitation of workers (head injuries, union busting), nationalism, and normative gender roles.

I love sports so so much, but I want my pleasure in sport to keep open all its ugly parts. Because the politics sports offers is found, I think, in the complexity of these bad feelings, queer unbelongings, and in the ways I manage to inhabit both my pleasure and discomfort. The political hope sport offers is far greater than just a representational big tent where Collins and Griner get their butts patted just like everyone else; it is found, I think, in feeling our way through why sport is an uncomfortable home for so many queers whose bodies, sexualities, racialized histories, or colonial critiques don’t find such an easy role on the team.

So instead of celebrating this Big Gay Jason Collins jam, I’m going to ramp up the feminist killjoy function of this tiny essay and remember a few other recent BIG GAY MOMENTS in professional sports, ones that I like because they antagonize.

So:

Remember last year when 49s cornerback Chris Culliver used a pre-Superbowl media scrum as a podium to say: “Ain’t got no gay people on the team. They gotta get up outta here if they do. Can’t be with that sweet stuff.”

Remember last year when MLB shortstop Yunel Escobar wrote the Spanish equivalent of “you’re a faggot” on his eye black?

Remember last year when Kobe Bryant called a ref a “fucking faggot?” I’ll always remember the face he made when he said it:

“Swimming is just an extension of breathing; this is how I keep my head and heart well”

Last week I read Ann Cvetkovich’s new book Depression: A Public Feeling (2012), half of which is a memoir of the two years during which she finished her dissertation and started her first job. I loved it for many reasons, some of which are intellectual engagements. But I think what will stick with me most from this book are the parts about swimming.

Cvetkovich writes about swimming as a “utopia of everyday habit”: a repetitive, physically engaged practice through which we build new worlds that show us ways out of political depression, via ordinary, everyday routines. The full text of Cvetokovich’s mini-essay on swimming is here (PDF).

Swimming is something I’ve always loved and have always done, but swimming lengths became a regular practice a few years ago when I was getting over a running injury. I think a lot about why I swim, and, unlike the other activities I do, it has very little to do with “getting exercise.”

For me, the pleasure in swimming comes from having to move in and out of the world. Underwater there is a singularity and a solitude that is utterly unlike the aloneness I experience at my desk, facing a word document like this one. I’m so physically engaged in moving through the water well, and with rhythm, that I let my mind wander. The nagging voices of imposter syndrome, an overdue article, a stack of marking, or a proposal I’m nervous about are quieted by the ways in which my body has to be completely engaged. And then I come up for air, in the world and aware of others in the pool for just long enough before I’m back with the quiet. In this way, swimming is a repetitive break with the pressures of capital and the thousand tiny anxieties that can make this kind of job hard to bear.

This oscillation is one of the meditative aspects of swimming that Cvetkovich expresses so well:

“Swimming is just an extension of breathing. I can keep moving without really thinking about it or exerting a lot of effort. Moving lets me off the hook a little bit. I can space out and let my mind continue with its obsessions because my body is carrying on, and carrying on without me. Exercise becomes an opportunity for sanctioned dissociation, and swimming is such a graceful way of moving that it seems okay to let my brain do whatever it wants. I’m sealed off from the rest of the world in the womb-like space of the pool.”

My friend cheyanne, who I’ve had the joy of swimming with in lakes, pools, and quarries, has written of swimming in a similar way. Hers is also a love story, charming because it’s so simple—sort of like swimming:

“I once fell in love with a person from Hawaii, a child born into water and who, to this day, is happiest there. In an attempt to conjure their love for me, I taught myself to swim, experimenting with how to orchestrate my breath and my body in tandem. It has been a while now since then, and I am still in love, and these days we swim together. Something beautiful happens in the space between taking breath in and bubbling it out underwater. It’s simple and yet it requires all my attention. In that precise focus, my mind is still. This is how I keep my head and heart well.”

Queer Stadiums – ACT UP at Shea

I had the opportunity to go to New York last week for some research and spent most of the trip in the ACT UP collection at the New York Public Library. I was looking for documentation of how the international ACT UP network communicated, especially during the early days of email and the web. I found some great material and I think the network might end up being one site for my dissertation research (I’ll write more on that in another post), but this post is actually about Shea stadium, where the Mets and the Jets used to play.

In the Spring of 1988 The ACT UP women’s committee organized an action at Shea Stadium. They bought 400 tickets to the Mets game in strategically selected blocks and unfurled massive banners throughout the game that read “No Glove, No Love,” “AIDS Kills Women,” and “Men! Use Condoms.” If you’re interested, Maxine Wolfe tells the whole story of the action at DIVA TV (video and transcript available). There aren’t any photos online but I’ve seen 8mm footage of this action from the perspective of someone sitting in the stands and it’s totally breathtaking.

Screengrab from ACT UP NY: http://www.actupny.org/documents/earlytactics2.html

I’m a big sports fan, especially NFL football. Sometimes when people find this out they seem put off, as if liking sports isn’t rightly feminist or rightly intellectual. This perception has a lot do with live sporting events as spaces that can be exclusionary and even violent toward people who don’t fit the typical sports-fan bill. It also has a lot to do with misconceptions about working class masculinity and violence. Of course, this perception isn’t helped by stuff like Tim Tebow, THE PATRON SAINT OF FOOTBALL, the fighter jet flyovers at the beginning of sports events, the constant association commentators make between contact sports and war, the singing of “God Bless America” during the 7th inning stretch, and the very existence of cheerleading or that thing called Lingerie Football. Cultural studies of sport have shown that there are many small ways in which heterotopic spaces that defy these stereotypes spring up at live sporting events, they’re just usually quiet, or go unremarked except to the people for whom they mean something. The Shea stadium action is remarkable because it puts them front and centre.

Maxine Wolfe sums up what I want to say perfectly in the video I linked to above:

When we came to the floor of ACT UP and we presented the Shea Stadium Action as our Nine Days of Action thing, the room became dead silent. Panic was in the air, absolute panic. So people started to stand up and speak. First, we got the “class” stuff. “We’re gonna get beaten to death there,” and we’re standing there very calmly saying, “Do you know who goes to Shea Stadium? We go to Shea Stadium? Kids go to Shea Stadium on Friday nights to pick each other up. Queers go to Shea Stadium.” And in the room all of a sudden the closet baseball queers started standing up. All these gay men who wouldn’t tell anyone they were baseball nuts because it’s not the “thing to be,” and they started saying, “Yeah! I go to Shea Stadium.” So we finally got people to go.