26th September – 28th October 2007
Commissioned by Artangel
Whether we agree or disagree that sport in contemporary culture has, or is about to supersede art (in terms of government funding). The issue remains debatable regardless of their shared similarities. Alternatively whether or not football can become art (and it could be argued that it already has vis-à-vis Douglas Gordon’s Zidane and Sam Taylor-Wood’s David) Pfeiffer directs his attention towards England's strong sporting cultural heritage and, to what some see, its finest hour.
Paul Pfeiffer’s The Saints, situated in a former retail unit on the site of the original Empire Exhibition (the cause for which Wembley Stadium was initially constructed in 1924), turns its focus away from the iconic figures on the pitch and bears its attention towards the crowd. The constellation of speakers installed into the roof of the disused warehouse reconstruct the original crowd noises from the 1966 World Cup Final. Pfeiffer’s sound installation contravenes the busy industrial park as the noise and clamor resonates away from the building and towards the new Wembley Stadium.
At the far end of the cavernous space the audience is confronted by two dissimilar images of itself. The first being the crowd that gathered, forty-one years ago, for the final between England and West Germany (and from which the sound installation is based), and the second being the crowd of young Filipinos brought together in Manila to re-enact the experience. Pfeiffer has purposefully assembled an audience to re orchestrate the sound of the original match day crowd. Having been brought up in Philippines Pfeiffer outsourced the audience to a region that does not share a similar cultural heritage (the Philippines has little interest in football and was never part of the British Empire).
The exhibition assimilates an imprint of Baudrillard’s notion of the simulacrum as the young Filipinos (given nothing but Red Bull for sustenance to further more vigorous cheering and beseeching) fully immerse themselves into replicating the crowd from the World Cup final. The result is a response of simultaneous similarity and difference.
Pfeiffer’s work employs a measure of self-reflexivity, not within the physicality of the work, but within the exhibition more largely. The self-awareness that is generated acts as a precursor to a criticality that allows the viewer to view oneself in relation to the work. The Saints transcends cultural boundaries between two distinct geographical locations. What prevails is a sense of similarity and participation. The audience outsourced for the work (the specific reason being its lack of sameness) illustrates that crowd behavior is not culturally determined. Raising issues of singularity and collective behavior, similarity and difference, the work brings to attention the idolization of individuals in possession of unique talent. This can be seen as being analogous and reflective of the art worlds tendency to promote certain artists (the cannon of western artists).
As the sound of the original 1966 crowd hovers beneath the recording as though asserting its mythical status in England's collective memory (a past time of triumph as world champions). Has the time also come for an economic fall in the arts with regards to what has been predominantly seen as England's most prosperous period? In the similar way that every four years the World Cup trophy pass hands from one country to another could the same to said for the center of the art world? One certainty remains, only time will tell.