Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sport as Art? PSG in Paris

When looking at the list of possible genres of artistic events on which I wanted to write my first response, I came across “athletics” as a possibility. In my mind, sports had never formed part of my definition of what constitutes art. In Canada and the United States, the reading I engaged in, the courses I took, and the events in which I participated, always separated art from sport; there seemed to be no overlap between the two. As a result, I was quite interested to explore how a football (soccer) match and sporting events in general could be considered as art.

My first live, professional soccer match took place between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Sochaux at the Parc Des Princes stadium in Boulogne. Having just arrived in time for the game, we were able to make it into a packed stadium as the whistle signaled the first kick.

I was overwhelmed, not only in sight, but also in sound, by what I was witnessing. The stadium was completely packed, more than I had expected for a regular season game on a Sunday afternoon. There was screaming and chanting coming from all directions, big chunks of newspaper confetti falling from the balconies, large French and Paris Saint-Germain flags being waved on all ends, and red flares being lit, highlighting the faces of the people underneath.

While some forms of art encourage distance between the viewer and the work itself, the art in soccer lies in the interaction between the crowd and the action on the field. Most interesting to me, was the symbiotic relationship between the spectators and the players. Although the crowd responded with loud “boos” and “whistles” to what they felt was the unfair call of the referee against PSG, it was evident that the players were also feeding off the energy of the crowd. About halfway through the first half, a breakaway of a PSG forward towards the Sochaux goal led to the crescendo of sound from the crowd. With the increase in volume within the stadium, the player ran faster, with more energy, and more certainty towards the net. The stress created within these few seconds was incredible, but unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful. The missed goal was followed by the commencement of a coordinated chant, a battle between one side of the stadium and the other. Taking a cue from the crowd, a more frantic effort began on the part of PSG, to acquire a lead before the end of the first half.

In the final few seconds of the first half, a penalty assigned to Sochaux led to a free kick for PSG. The erect stance of Hoarau, the PSG kicker, contrasted with the bent, prepared, yet resigned stance of the Sochaux goalie, reminded me of one of David’s paintings, “The Oath of Horatii” (1784). It was evident that the PSG player would win the battle, just as the Horatii had done. The space in between the kicker and goalie created the same tension as that between the arms of the Horatii and the swords of the Curiatii (view pictures below).

Left: The Oath of Horatti
Jacques-Louis David (1784)

Right: Field position during a
penalty soccer kick

Although all the players were montionless as Hoarau prepared to take his kick, movement was embodied within the scene on the field through the growth of anticipation both from the crowd and the players. The free kick led to the first goal of the match, bringing PSG ahead, just as the whistle blew for half-time.

Unlike David’s painting or a monologue read by Gertrude in Macbeth, this football match was not played with the intent of being laden with symbolism or to fulfill a greater political purpose. However, like many forms of art, it was able to bring together a community of diverse individuals, all impassioned by the artistry of the sport itself.

The collective breath that was taken in by the spectators as one of the PSG players was able to skillfully dribble the ball between his legs, fake a move to the right, and then continue to the left to circumvent an oncoming Sochaux player, inspired the same awe that I have felt when watching a ballerina perform a jump or leap on stage. The ability for each player to move with grace, agility, adapt, react and mold himself to the actions of his teammates and his opponents, left a lasting impression on me.

The atmosphere inside the stadium was electrifying, especially with the conclusion of the match, a win for Paris Saint-Germain. As we left the stadium, there was a buzz in the air as people rapidly recounted the events of that match. Coming from a place where we are told not to talk to a stranger in the Metro, or smile at a passer-by on the street, this match had the effect of dissolving those social norms present in French society.

Each one of us was able to interact with this “art”, form our own judgments, and allow our personal experiences to dictate our response. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the match. Although most don’t attend a sporting event with the intent of seeing something artistic, this match presented art to me in a way that is different and less cliché than the norm.

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