Photography, video installation, Place de l’Europe, Paris.
10 June – 15 July 2016 (Cubes Nationaux during the EURO 2016 soccer championship).
A project of the Austrian Cultural Forum Paris.
So Much More Than Just a Game
Michael Goldgruber’s outstanding art project Kicking the Horizon
by Günther Oberhollenzer
The ball keeps crashing against the metal bars, producing a loud, sometimes deafening, rattling noise. Although the young soccer players kick the ball with great vigour, the metal bars withstand the forceful impact. The camera records the event from a safe distance outside of the soccer cage. The video is part of the exhibition Kicking the Horizon by Michael Goldgruber. The committed project is the Austrian art contribution to the 2016 European Soccer Championship (EURO 2016). The photographs and films will be exhibited in the context of an installation at the international culture promenade on the banks of the River Seine in Paris from 10 June until 15 July 2016.
Goldgruber is a master of challenging our perception, of capturing and probing preconceived perspectives and prescribed viewpoints. With utmost aesthetic precision, his videos and photographic work revolve around human beings and their take on nature, their encounters with their surroundings. In the process, the artist provides startling insights into a world that appears both familiar and as if being seen through new eyes; his images capture how we see the environment and how we have modified it, for instance through the structures we build. At times disturbing or thought-provoking, the results can also be very intriguing.
Once more, human perception is an important ingredient in Goldgruber’s outstanding new series of works. The installation is an impressive demonstration of how intricately intertwined art and life can be. Art can serve as a sensitive instrument for capturing topical social issues; with great immediacy and from a subjective point of view, art can open novel and unusual angles on our everyday reality. In this awareness, Goldgruber takes a courageous and compelling look at refugee children stranded in Austria, for whom playing soccer provides a brief interlude of normality. Soccer teams are organised to give the refugees the opportunity of getting some exercise, but also to foster community spirit and provide an outlet for pent-up aggression. Goldgruber considers it very important to encounter refugees in this new setting. The meetings between the artist and the refugees and the experience gathered at the sports ground provide the basis for photographs and videos of momentous intensity and expressive power.
With great sensitivity, Goldgruber captures the team members in large-format black-and-white portraits. The artist concentrates on their expressive faces, with the close-up zoom steadily drawing in the viewer’s gaze. Although the focus is on the eyes, the young men are not seeking eye contact with the viewers. Aimed at far-away places, their eyes are sad and vulnerable, but also proud and dignified. This is how Goldgruber singles out individuals from the masses, transforming transforming anonymous refugees into real people. The camera stays on each face for about half a minute, bringing it closer, presenting refugees as individuals who experienced bad things, but also as human beings with hopes and dreams. Goldgruber lets them be what they are without stage-managing or exposing them. His camera captures their self-confidence and dignity, but also their insecurity. In another video, the artist slowly pans the camera over the faces of the young people, some of them singing, others humming. It is not the national anthem one hears, but a song by Franz Schubert. The artist skilfully employs romantic elements such as the motif of yearning or an expression of noble dignity. At the same time, he makes sure the perspective is not overly romanticised: architectural photographs and videos present the — partly improvised – soccer playgrounds in sober and disillusioning aesthetics. The video showing the players kicking the ball is shot through the wire fencing of a soccer cage which evokes prison bars. This is not only sport or physical exercise; it is also a means of venting pent-up anger and aggression.
When art and sport come together, their union may produce strange offspring. Especially cultural side events in the context of European or international soccer championships run the risk of appearing somewhat contrived when striving to forge these two apparently unrelated central themes of our lives into a meaningful relationship. And yet, there are commonalities, particularly the elements of play. Human identity is “characterised by a ludic habitus which provides the basis for both art and sports”, notes Oliver Zybok in his essay Die Inszenierung von Körperlichkeit und Bewegung. According to Zybok, play is the decisive mechanism for the construction of personal and collective identities. The two main aspects governing play are as different as they can be: rules and coincidence. If Manfred Eigen and Ruthild Winkler are to be believed, coincidence was there first. Rules were made to create order, not in the sense of stifling coincidence with laws, but in the sense of instilling a “living order”. A set of rules and coincidence do not exclude each other, they influence each other. One might even maintain that rules were born from a dialectic of coincidence. Sport brings play and, as a result, rules to the lives of the young refugees.
It is “play, and only play, which fully completes human beings”. Art and sports are paradigmatic of this idea. “First, the play of muscles and limbs: aimless grasping and flailing turns into a precisely correlated sequence of movements. Then the play of the senses: playful curiosity turns into profound knowledge, the play of colours, shapes and sounds into an immortal work of art.”
With his art, Goldgruber achieves sensitive and intense portraits of individuals. After having seen the photographs and videos we would like to get to know them. Depicting architectural settings in a manner at once documentary and sculptural, focussing on the individual human faces and combining evocative images with rhythmic sounds and romantic music – all of these elements in combination create a many-layered artistic installation in which Goldgruber manages to give a very human face to the emotionally charged refugee issue. And he makes it very obvious that the world’s most popular sport can be so much more than just a game.
1 Oliver Zybok, Die Inszenierung von Körperlichkeit und Bewegung, in Kunstforum International Vol. 169, p. 35-63, quote on p. 40 et. seqq.
2 Manfred Eigen und Ruthild Winkler, Das Spiel. Naturgesetze steuern den Zufall, 1975, ibid., p. 40.