TThe National Gallery of Victoria and the AFL may not be the most obvious bedfellows, but this weekend, these worlds will collide for three hours. Walk through the gallery doors on Sundays between 2-5pm and you’ll see five AFL and AFLW players – Annie Mack, Jason Ball, Jasper Pittard, Jim Marks and Simona Castricum – hanging in the foyer of the Great Hall, spinning their bodies around rope to become living works of art.
This is the Melbourne iteration of Still Lives, which is part of the Rising arts festival lighting up the city this winter. Aided by artists Luke George and Daniel Kok, Still Lives uses human bodies and rope to recreate iconic images; when they performed Still Lives at the 2019 Venice Biennale, the gondola took center stage, a symbol of the Italian city. When it came to Melbourne, AFL was the obvious choice, especially after the pandemic brought entertainment and culture to a standstill in the city – now that everything has reopened, how and where do arts and sports intersect?
“AFL is intertwined with so many important societal issues relevant to Melbourne,” says Kok. “As we work with the footballers, everything about their own personal stories, their own relationships growing up in the city and playing the game all become part of the fabric we weave together.”
At Still Lives Melbourne, the athletes’ bodies will mimic the award-winning mark of Minang and Inggarda player Andrew Krakouer for Collingwood in 2011, an image that struck both performers for its choreographic form.
“I’ve always been interested in sports photography because you see all these players in very dynamic positions and it moves very quickly,” says Kok. “The idea of this split-second moment lasted over three hours, where we took our time tying the players one by one to get them as close to that image as possible – that really got us excited.”
There is a strong intersection element in the installation, which runs next to the large Queer of the NGV exhibition. Both performers are gay and the participating players are members of the LGBTQ+ community, activists and First Nations people. “Because I had no relationship whatsoever with Footy, the process started through personal connections with queer people,” George says. “Footy is at this point of reckoning where it’s really starting to expand into a more inclusive space.”
Spectators will watch the performers work with the players to string them together – a slow, reflective process. It is just as much about the before and during as the after: the structure and the connection that arises. Some of the joy and complexity of the installation will not become apparent until the day.
“We will massage them with us in a meditative state, quietly moving through the steps and gradually getting ready for suspension. Then everyone is finally suspended at that crescendo moment, where everyone goes up in the air together,” says Kok. “It’s a real journey, not only for us, but also for the public.”
George expects that among the curious onlookers there will be “people who are avid footy fans, people who are there because of Rising, and people who love rope tying – there can be something fascinating about creating this space.”
“The fact that these different groups of people intersect in one event is something we’re really excited about because they’re all looking at the same thing,” Kok says. “What happens when they see each other, when they see that someone who is watching is different from themselves, or looks in a different way? For us, that is a very big political question.”
Still Lives kicks off on Sunday 5 June at 2pm in the Great Hall of the NGV International in Melbourne, as part of Rising festival. Admission is free