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Gitoni: An Exhibition of Football Art

Let's get one thing straight. I'm not much of a sports lover. Actually, sorry, that statement is misleading. "Not much of" implies that I still somewhat like them. Let me rephrase: I do not like sports at all.

Strong words? Perhaps. But, hell, if you were the shrimpy kid that always got picked last for every team, the one whose forearms erupted in a smattering of popped blood vessels every time volleyball unit rolled around, you wouldn't be a fan either. Solo activities like snowboarding and kayaking turn my crank, but give me a ball and other people in those suspicious configurations known as "teams" [shudder], and this little monkey ain't gonna dance.

Given my disdain for the Devil's play...err, sports...you'd think that I would turn my nose up at a soccer exhibit. Given the fact that the one currently showing on Queen West is sponsored by Nike (the expression "to add insult to injury" comes to mind...), you'd think that I'd be running as far away as possible. But, gosh darn it, I think it's rad.

Gitoni: An Exhibition of Football Art showcases the work of eight local artists commissioned by Nike to create works of art that examined the deeply rooted culture of soccer. Each was asked to fashion an installation using a foosball (gitoni) table as the inspiration for one of the Nike 8 World Cup qualifying national teams. The result is eight tables that reflect the unique characters of each represented country and that capture, some better than others, the oft-passionate, near jingoistic relationship its people have with el jogo bonito ("the beautiful game" in Portuguese).

Four of the foosball tables really stood out for me: Carl Cassell's Brazil, Paul Aloisi's USA, Gregory Robin's Mexico and Fighting's Portugal.

Cassell's table is mounted on glass legs, two panels of colour that attempt to showcase the dash, verve and fandango of la Brasil. While visually appealing, the piece falls short of fully realizing its intent. Fault rests with the medium Cassell chose--the large, flat panels of glass, try as they might, simply cannot capture the multifarious textures of the country of the Canarinho. This is due both to their two-dimensional nature and the way light diffuses paint's pigment through glass, robbing the colours of their richness and depth.

The US table by Aloisi has all the players and rotating bars removed. Mounted on cement blocks with pylons, miniature cranes and construction tape forming the aesthetic, it speaks to the US' building up of its national league. Even more telling of the country, however, is the pair of Nike shoes in the centre of the table, used as the base for a bulldozer figurine. The tables of two other countries have Nike shoes in the vicinity, but the placement in this piece is--whether intentional or not--indicative of the US' shameless, brazen corporate agenda worship. Aloisi, in the video segment accompanying the table, even remarks how he just knew he had to use the beautiful Nike shoe as part of the installation as soon as he saw it. Gag.

Sorry, Nike, is your gloriously powerful, wealthy member far enough down my throat? What's that you say? Little deeper? Sure thing.

South Korea's table by Bethany Davidson is a gorgeous, if somewhat vanilla, treatment of the Asian country.

The two standouts for me were the tables of Robins (Mexico) and Fighting (Portgual). Mexico's is mounted on a tombstone, surrounded by flowers, candles and framed photos. Evidence of the last meal litter the surrounding area in the form of plates, empty cups and wine bottles. Not to be outdone, ingredients for the party to come also feature in the form of a giant tequila bottle. A soccer ball and cleats rest innocently among the pastiche, speaking to the firmly embedded role soccer plays in Mexican culture. Life, love and death are intertwined with the game.

The Portugal piece is a burst of colour, shapes, stimuli and forms around the foosball table. As soon as I saw it, I was struck with memories of Lisboa, the vibrant and unapologetically bold capital of the nation, where buildings, people and other signs of life spring up in every which corner, without rhyme or reason. This installation captures the spirit of that charming city perfectly. At the centre of it all, a constant in the madness--or, perhaps, a constant that fuels the madness--is, of course, futebol, la joga bonito.

Gitoni: An Exhibition of Football Arts
619 Queen West
Wed - Fri, 2pm to 8pm
Sat - Sun, 11am to 7pm
Runs until July 9.
Psst: Art loving fans can bid on the eight custom tables through the silent auction. When I popped in on Saturday, the bids ranged from $500 (Korea and USA) to $1,050 (Brazil). Considering a lot of the tables are not only gorgeous but also functional, the price tag doesn't seem too bad at all.

[Photo credit: binshop.blogspot.com]


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