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Art and Dissonance in Sport Heritage

The idea of dissonance as perhaps the central, innate characteristic of heritage is not new. Indeed, if we accept that all heritage is not neutral, the notion that all heritage could have a counter narrative seems reasonable. In this, we understand – as many in critical heritage studies do – that heritage is often, and perhaps always, about power.

In sport heritage, we have not necessarily considered dissonant heritages that often. While Sean Gammon and I, back in 2005, argued that the sporting past in tourism ought to be called heritage rather than nostalgia – in large part because heritage had the capacity for dissonant narratives – there actually aren’t that many dissonant narratives at sport heritage sites. Of course, there are many reasons for this – as most sport heritage sites like museums and halls of fame are primarily about celebration of achievement and, as such, more challenging views are frequently ignored. Still, there appears to be very few outlets where more challenging approaches to the sporting past – at least in terms of cultural sites like museums – are seen. Similarly, many non-sport cultural entities tend to avoid sporting exhibitions, perhaps viewing sport as too common and popular to represent at, say, a gallery or as part of a broad-based exhibition.

However, there are a few examples I am familiar with where art, dissonance, and sport heritage have met. Perhaps the best example was the Arena: The Art of Hockey exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in 2008. The exhibition both embraced and challenged many of the links between hockey and Canadian national identity. On the one hand, many of the works embraced – if, somewhat subversively – the role hockey plays in Canadian identity. I recall one work which was little more than a nude male and female holding hockey sticks. On the other hand, there were many works that challenged hockey culture and heritage. One work, in particular (and, forgive, I forget the name – though it appears that there are still exhibition guides available) was a collage of images set on an indigenous reserve that featured scenes of hockey as well as suicide, alcoholism, racism and sexual abuse. Although I suspect the work could be read in many ways, I took it as the fact that hockey – and sport in general – does not necessarily address, and perhaps masks, larger social issues.

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Similarly, a 2008 exhibition called “Hard Targets: Masculinity and Sports” looks at the violence and voyeuristic aspects of sport consumption. Like Arena, this exhibition appeared to take sport cultures and heritages into an unfamiliar space, both critiquing and celebrating the physicality of sporting practices.

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Although there are certainly many other examples of art, dissonance, and sport heritage than these, and there are many sporting sites and places that do address dissonant heritages (Although I have a chapter coming out in early 2017 which looks at several sites that employ dissonant sport heritage narratives), there appears to be space within art galleries in particular – which, perhaps is not available to traditional sport heritage sites like museums and halls of fame – to both celebrate and challenge sport heritages. Perhaps some of this has to do with visitor expectations: hall of fame patrons may be looking to celebrate and nostalgize, while gallery patrons may expect subversion. However, these not need be polar opposites – and can exist, in many cases, side by side (as was recently featured in a post about Argentina). Certainly, many stadia – such as Marlins Park in Miami – have incorporated public art into stadium design (and not simply for nostalgic purposes). While this is not always necessarily addressing major social issues – as some of the art in the Arena exhibit might – it nevertheless demonstrates that so-called “high” and “low” cultures and heritage are not necessarily incompatible.

The Sport Heritage Gift Guide

The holiday season is upon us and, if you have someone in your life with an interest in sport heritage, gift buying can be difficult and quite expensive.  Of course, there are many gift options in terms of memorabilia, autographs, and the like – though, often times, these can be costly and sometimes difficult to obtain depending on the item. Other sport heritage-related gifts – such as attending a fantasy camp or an historic event like the Masters golf tournament or Wimbledon – can be equally expensive and inaccessible to all but a wealthy few.

Not to fear, however, as we have some gift suggestions for the sport heritage person in your life to suit both your budget and their interests!

Art

Though there are many options in the art/sport heritage landscape, the work of Paine Proffitt is particularly notable. I first encountered his work in the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham Stadium back in 2007 when on a research project, and I was thrilled to see that he is still producing magnificent artwork. Although much of his current work is based in English football, as an ex-pat American he also covers North American sports such as baseball and ice hockey. Visit his website at www.painproffitt.com – you’ll be pleased you did.

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(Some examples of Paine Proffitt‘s outstanding artwork.)

Apparel 

Retro and throwback sports jerseys and apparel are fairly common now, but weren’t always so. Several companies – most notably Ebbets Field Flannels and the Old Fashioned Football Shirt Company (or TOFFS) – now produce sports apparel from bygone eras, or from long forgotten teams, often in era-specific fabric (I have a replica 1950s canvas football jersey from TOFFS). I was amazed at some of the replica items of truly quirky teams and eras that these companies reproduce. For example, Ebbets Field Flannels, though mainly reproducing baseball apparel from various minor league teams from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, produced a replica jersey from the Edmonton Flyers – a  semi-pro hockey team that most people in my hometown of Edmonton had probably long forgotten existed. Much like Paine Proffitt’s artwork, people interested in throwback sports apparel would have a field day looking at all of the reproduction items available.

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Books and other reading material 

There are many, many, many sport history books released during the holiday season, as books are an easy fall-back as gifts. Of course, there are also several academic sport heritage books as well, some of which were covered in a previous post. However, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, the holiday season is the best time to dream about the spring and summer to come. Few things are more enjoyable to think about during the cold winter months than a perfect day at the cricket ground and, for that, Wisden is your spot. This time of year, there are many cricket books on sale at Wisden – not the least of which is the famous Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack

Memberships

Memberships to sports museums, halls of fame, and sports clubs make some of the best gifts. Even if the recipient is not living near the museum or club, it provides an opportunity to both provide support as well as give a sense of being a part of the organization. Most museums and halls of fame provide various levels of membership – including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum – while some sports clubs have memberships for patrons living away or abroad, such as Kent Cricket’s affordable “13th Man” club membership.

Donations

For the sport heritage aficionado who has it all, donations to organizations involved in the preservation and interpretation of sporting heritage make wonderful gifts. The International Sports Heritage Association has a list of member organizations – perhaps find one in a local area and provide a one-time or on-going donation as a gift. Another possibility are donations to organizations – such as the excellent Sporting Memories Network – that use the sporting past to tackle major health issues such as dementia and depression.

The Aesthetics of Sport Heritage Ruins

At some point in the heritage conservation movement (memory serves it was during the nineteenth century, but I could be wrong) there was a significant change in the thinking around heritage ruins. Rather than being viewed as incomplete buildings, ravaged by decay, they were recast as romantic, enchanting, and haunting – a bit of a gothic dream, if you will. Of course, when visiting ruins today, they are still largely cast as romantic.  One need only visit the ruins of an abbey, for example, to imagine that they are almost a set piece in a Jane Austin novel, with their manicured vegetation et al.

In any event, the meanings and aesthetics of ruins got me thinking about their application in sport heritage.  Photos of contemporary abandoned or ruined places have become ubiquitous.  One need not look that far for pictures of abandoned cinemas, libraries, and churches in places like Detroit.  Seemingly these photos are meant as a kind of warning, a bit of a memento mori. Perhaps they can be read as a warning against faith in capitalism and the free market, or of globalization, or even of how everything – even the most grand and ornate places – can be abandoned and forgotten. And, yet, there is still an aesthetic beauty to them.  They are a warning, for sure, but one feels drawn to them, and imagines what it might be like to walk through these places, to experience them, to live near them and create great art based on them.

Sport heritage, too, has its contemporary ruins and normally during the staging of mega events like the Olympics or World Cup, many photos of former venues – now abandoned and forgotten – become part of the social media landscape.  This collection of photos, in particular, made its rounds through Twitterverse most recently.  Indeed, there are warnings here too – about fallacy of sport event legacy (particularly when it comes to sports infrastructure), about the costs of staging a sporting event, and how sporting events are rarely ever panaceas in addressing larger socioeconomic issues – but, like those photos from Detroit, there’s also a beauty here.  Indeed, the photos from places like Athens and Beijing are warnings – particularly given how recently these Olympics were staged, and how quickly these venues were mothballed. But, the ones from Sarajevo are very sad, given the post-Olympics history of that country. In any event, I am wondering how these places ought to be read, and how they fit into the broader history of heritage decay? Seemingly they share some history with their ancient and gothic cousins, but are they different because they are recent (both in construction and abandonment)? Are there broader issues here, too – about environmentalism, human conflict, or disposability of culture?

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Book Review: Immortals of British Sport

Sport-based sculptures have recently become a focal point in understanding sport heritage.  Part of this has been recording and mapping various sport statues – as we all know, many statues and memorials of all sorts tend to be forgotten in the years following their dedication, with only a rare few having an ongoing power and potency – though, in terms of academic work, the “From Pitch to Plinth” group out of the University of Sheffield goes a step further by examining the meanings and representations of the statues as well (which, as you can imagine, can change over time).  

However, there is also a beauty and art to the statues – as well as the stories and histories behind them.  That’s where a book like Immortals of British Sport: A celebration of Britain’s sporting history through sculpture by Ian Hewitt and Sampson Lloyd, shines through.  To call it a coffee table book does it a disservice – though, certainly it’s handsome production makes it wonderful for display – nor would it be right to say it is a mere reference book.  Rather, it is best described as an illustrated history; a chronological look at Britain’s sport history through the public representation of sculpture.  Though not an academic history, it is well-written, beautifully photographed and, even for someone like myself who did not grow up in Britain and has only followed British sport for a short period of time, very accessible.  It also provides a handy reference of the artists, sports, and the locations of the statues, should your interest be more artistic and/or touristic.

There were a few things that struck me about the statues featured in the book.  I guess the first was the number of animal sculptures there are in Britain, particularly those of racehorses.  It makes sense, of course, that so many famous horses or dogs would be immortalized in sculpture, particularly given the sporting culture of the UK, but the number of statues surprised me.  

The second was that, seemingly, there isn’t that diverse a representation of sporting sculptures in Britain, particularly in terms of race.  This is, of course, not the fault of the authors – they are working with the inventory that exists, after all – but it is surprising that, as much as the British population has changed, as well as how the British public understands and represents their heritage now, that this hasn’t seemed to translate to sporting sculptures to any great degree (of course, it was heartening to see some diversity of sports, including some winter sports – though, it makes sense that the vast majority of the sculptures would be football-based).  

There also wasn’t the sense of public performance or public interaction with the statue – with the exceptions being those sculptures that are recognizing tragedy and memorializing loss, such as that of the Hillsborough memorial.  Of course, it is beyond the scope of the book to necessarily examine public performance, but it would be fascinating to know to what extent these sculptures are point of interest or reference, meeting places, or are they barely discernible from the rest of the landscape and are simply ignored.

Finally, in many ways, I think the book inspires a desire to travel – and, certainly, to seek out some of these statues.  I have no idea how I missed the statue of W.G. Grace at Lord’s when I was there recently, but I feel I must go back to see it.  Similarly, I must find Eric Liddell’s statue the next time I’m in Edinburgh.  If getting the reader to not only know about these statues but to also go and experience and appreciate them as well was part of the authors’ goals, then they succeeded wildly at this objective. 

The price of the book is very reasonable – £20.00 (or about $33.00 US) – and it is a steal at twice the price.  

For more information about the book and authors, please visit their website at http://www.immortalsofbritishsport.com

Public Art and Sport Heritage

I recently had the chance to tour Marlins Park in Miami – a baseball stadium that has been credited with the ending the retro park phenomenon in the United States. Although I will save my thoughts about the stadium and its relationship to heritage for another time (I believe it to be as “heritage” as the retro parks, but I digress), one of the interesting elements of the Park is how art is a central feature – both inside and outside the stadium.

Public art and sport heritage do have a relationship, although typically it is manifest in statue form (interestingly, there has been some recent research published about sport statues by this group here). However, Marlins Park took the relationship between sport heritage and art to a different level by actually creating a public art piece from the signage of the Miami Orange Bowl, a football stadium that was demolished to make room for Marlins Park. While it is not unusual for new stadiums to include displays or artefacts from past facilities, to do it in such a unique way (and, for me, a way that was both playful and nostalgic) suggest that sport heritage displays can be artistic and inventive without necessarily being prosaic.

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