When Jo imagines the “capital time” she might have as a boy with other boys, she imagines a world closer to the fantasy of the 29th bather than the actual experience of being one of those 28 young men. The reality of those settings is quite far from Whitman’s queer idyll, and even farther from the gorgeous spectacle of Zidane. Contrarily, Adria Julia explores the darker side of this world in his installation La Reunion (2008). This moody, black-and-white projection opens with a man in front of a mirror in a spare dressing room dancing like a boxer before a match. He pulls a large hockey jersey over his head and slips on his headphones. The speed of the film is slow; he bounces up and down, back and forth–jumping around to music we can’t hear. He moves across the room, lunging towards his mirror image and pulling back towards the camera. He is getting ready to perform. The slow speed makes his body seems heavy as he swings it around the room. When he steps into the arena, he steps not onto the ice but into the stands of the dilapidated Reunion Arena, home to Dallas’s hockey games. We watch him lead the largely white, working- class audience through cheers, shouts, and rounds of clapping. He is a plant, a spectator paid to supplement the crowd’s waning enthusiasm. Cut into this strange performance are shots of the empty arena and audio lifted from a Dallas museum, in which cliched country guitar cords animate a historical narrative describing the nineteenth-century utopian commune after which Reunion Arena and Julia’s installation are named. The Dallas commune was inspired by the writings of French utopian philosopher Charles Fourier who, it should be noted, is often credited with having coined the word “feminism” in the process of imagining a social world defined by gender equity.
Zidane is a successful spectacle (an image in which we are interested, an image for which there is an audience, and an image that we are entitled to look at and enjoy). It is a hyper-spectacle in which the thrill of the enjoyment on offer is derived from the awareness that we, as audience, are part of a global spectacle. We are happy spectators to our own spectatorship. Julia’s installation, on the other hand, offers a spectacle that is not at all spectacular: a minor league hockey game set in a decaying arena that was itself built on the grounds of failed utopian community. In La Reunion, we are looking at communal and generational collapse, at collective failure, and the gap between the imagined and the real.
The ideological limits that organize mainstream representations of the female athletic body surface more explicitly in Stand Your Ground, Moira Lovell’s 2008 installation of a series of portraits of the women who play for The Doncaster Rover Belles. The Belles are one of the older teams in English women’s football. Women working the stands selling programs for the local professional men’s team, the Doncaster Rovers, founded the Belles in 1969. (Women fans of the men’s clubs who wanted to play started nearly all of the most prominent women’s teams in the U.K.) In these portraits, the Belles do not meet the camera with the obligatory disarming smile asked of women athletes on those anomalous days when the media takes interest. nor are these traditional team photos presenting the united front arranged in tidy rows on the pitch, bodying forth the team’s identity en masse. As much as the game is marked in England as a working-class sport, it is even more deeply coded as masculine, thanks largely to the England Football Association’s fifty-year ban of women from its fields. That act was explicitly intended to kill off the popular women’s game in the 1920s, not only because the women who played it were considered unseemly–cigarette smoking, swearing, and hard playing (and plainly gay)–but because those women had politically organized to support striking workers.19 (The English FA ban became the model for similar bans enacted around the world.) Because of this history and the sports culture that it created, in those countries where women’s soccer was in essence outlawed (including England, Germany, Spain, and Brazil), a woman’s uniform feels like a black leather motorcycle jacket. Even as it signifies membership in a team, a collective identity, it also signals a form of rebellion. In England, in other words, you don’t need to wear Tsang’s purple satin body suit to feel like a gender freak–you can just wear your training outfit.
- For more on this history see Jean Williams, A Game for Rough Girls: The History of Women’s Football in Great Britain (London: Routledge, 2003).↵