As a successful recipient of the Visual Arts New Work grant round in 2012, Melbourne based artist Gabrielle de Vietri, embarked on a quest to transform AFL into a three team game. After months of planning, the three team game took place on October 5th 2013 in Horsham, Victoria. Alex Bellemore and Gabrielle discusses the project in more detail:
Alex Bellemore: What was the genesis behind ‘Three Teams’?
Gabrielle De Vietri: I came to Aussie Rules relatively late in life. My family was a distinctly non-football family. I was a teenage goth in Perth. But after having lived in Melbourne for some years, I observed with interest how individuals from all walks of life enjoyed the game, and realised that the artistic and sporting cultures are not necessarily mutually exclusive ones. So I went to the MCG to watch a game and the question arose – why are team sports always binary? Why is sport, and conflict in general, always structured as either individual struggle or an opposition between two parties?
AB: Why Horsham as a site for this project?
GDV: In 2011 I did a residency project in Horsham called Things I’ve Learnt as part of the ACCA Regional Touring programme. After spending some time in this town, seeing their enthusiasm for football, and being part of their small but engaged cultural scene, I thought that Horsham would be a good setting in which to experiment with the idea of creating a new, three-team sport. I could imagine the event being a blip on the cultural horizon of big cities, attended by a few anarchists and artists and being little more than a fun afternoon for those involved. I wanted more from this project, and I wanted its social, political and intellectual effects to resonate through the community in which it was taking place. I wanted to create this project outside of the art scene, and from within the depths of Australia’s sporting culture. It didn’t matter to me whether the individuals involved saw this as an art project, a social experiment or a pivotal moment in the history of Aussie Rules. But it mattered that their engagement was sustained, meaningful and invested.
AB: People at the extreme end of the ‘arts and sporting divide’ often believe that the other is irrelevant or of little value. Does this work seek to break down these beliefs?
GDV: I feel like I’ve chosen to work in an area where this rift is as stark as it could be. And I am working from a position of complete bias: being well-informed in one arena and utterly ignorant in the other. However, I think the two areas cross over and diverge in interesting ways. They both inhabit ritualistic, spectatorial, social, playful aspects of human life. In sport, the rules are set before the game and the goal is known to all involved. The process of art, on the other hand, is open-ended and full of uncertainty, and this was where I wanted convergence between the two to happen.
Sport reveals some very interesting things about our human nature, and it is in this capacity that it fascinates me. I’m not sure if the work sought to bring art and sport together, but that challenge was a subtext to many of the conversations I had during the consultation period. Imagine, for example, meeting the Pimpinio Football Club President, Wally, in the rain at a truck stop, with five minutes to sell the idea while he unloads his truck. Presenting an art project to make it sound like something he could convince his players and coaches to get involved in required a particular kind of approach. While I was interested in applying thought processes and the methodologies of art practice to sport, overtly branding it as such was not necessarily helpful in these conversations.
AB: Your practice is inquisitive about what people think about questions which are much bigger than themselves, such as ‘What is Out There?’ and ‘What is Beauty?’(2009). Does Three Teams speak to similar contemplative questions?
GDV: In much of my practice I aim to activate questions that, for many people, may crop up from time to time, but often get swept to the side in favour of more immediate issues. These are often things that are obvious, but remain unquestioned or untested. I hope that by being given time to be contemplated, these questions will begin to transform the way we see and interact with the world around us.
I examine the ways that people interact, the traditions that structure their behavior and I experiment with the effects or manipulating or distorting these. I also like to ask difficult, but straight-forward questions. The look on someone’s face when they are coming across a question for the first time is one that keeps me coming up with projects like this. I know that something interesting and worthwhile is happening if people are being asked to think in ways that they have not before considered.
AB: What has been the most rewarding aspect of this project from a community engagement perspective?
GDV: Three Teams has been realised with the help of some wonderful people who have given so much time to the project, in particular the Project Assistant, Renae Fomiatti, and footy and event expert, Yariv Field. Creating Three Teams in Horsham has also required the involvement of a lot of unsuspecting people who have found themselves at the centre of this project. People like Adam Harding from the Horsham Regional Art Gallery who has jumped behind the project to boost it onto the region’s cultural scene. Families like the Bolwells who are billeting commentators in their own homes. Cheryl Linke who attended the community consultation and who stepped forward to distribute flyers and posters across town. And of course engaging in heated discussions with footy players and their supporters about the theory of the three-team game, while simultaneously learning about the original game itself has been enlightening.
AB: Based on the lead up to the match were you expecting the game to work?
GDV: If the rules of the Three Team game function cohesively, the game is enjoyable to play and interesting to watch that would be a welcome result. However, there is no guarantee that this new game will “work” as such, and nor does it have to. “Working” could mean complete chaos on the field, but engaged and ongoing conversations between Melbourne and Horsham, between arts enthusiasts and sports fans, between hipsters and farmers. The project does not have to prove or disprove a hypothesis, only to conduct an experiment and interpret the results. While there are outcomes around community engagement and artistic production, the crux of the project-the conversations that will happen off camera, for example-are impossible to predict, define or measure.
The Three Team game occurred on Saturday October 5 at Taylors Lake Oval, 12km east of Horsham along the Western Highway.
Find out more about Gabrielle De Vietri and Visual Arts New Work grants.