Tuesday, 11 March 2008

readymade sports

Many Canadians are familiar with The Red Green Show (and no, the man pictured here piloting a pumpkin is not Mr. Green, nor is his beard ironic. The pirate gnome, however, is.) (Ironic, not Mr. Green). Apparently, however, most people are under the impression that The Red Green Show is a comedy show and not a documentary. These people spend too much time in cities. Let me set the record straight. Back home, in Maine (which, let's face it, might as well be rural Canada), we understand Red on a more personal level. We tell heroic stories of how we once used duct tape to fix a broken trailer hitch, and made it all the way to Millinocket (going 35 on the highway) without losing the boat. We commiserate over the time we had to break into our own house because we locked ourselves out. And we know that the handyman only needs two tools: duct tape to keep things together, WD-40 to keep them apart.

But duct tape and cheap beer aren't the only things rural folk have in common. We also have sports. I don't mean NASCAR and hockey--they're great, but most of us simple folk can't afford the regulation equipment. No, I'm talking about pumpkin racing, lobster crate and lobster boat racing, mud running (or mud'n, the act of purposefully getting your truck aaalmost stuck), and power tool racing. The basic idea behind all of these events (and many more) is to turn the mundane or menial into a skilled competition. City-folk find such activities endlessly amusing, but hopelessly provincial. This is a mistake.

In exactly the way Duchamps turned a found object--a urinal--into 'art' by an act of designation, Mainers transform found activities into sports by acts of designation. Just like readymade art, the possibilities for readymade sports are effectively endless. As a rule, though, the potential of an activity to be elevated to sport-hood increases the more amusing the competition is likely to be to an audience.

Like all modern art, such events are all in good fun, of course, and self-mockery is half the point. But from this you should not jump to the conclusion that Mainers are irresponsible danger-seekers. Look again at the photographic lede: sure, this gentleman has affixed an outboard motor to a giant pumpkin. But he is wearing a lifejacket, as is the law for any vessel under 16 feet in Maine. Safety first.

What can a city like Toronto offer to compete with this?

Readymade sports have always been a part of Maine culture; we didn't need Marcel Duchamps to remind us to look at the objects around us with a playful eye. What distinguishes readymade sports from readymade art, if anything, is that readymade sports aren't a reaction to anything, and as such are missing the undercurrent of pretension that comes with rejecting four centuries of art theory. If we're looking for authenticity in art, we could do worse than to start looking for it at the Maine Pumpkin Festival.

Thanks to Zac for the pointer to this article in Maine's premier newspaper.


Phil Warnell said...

Hi Isaac ,

I've taken the liberty to tag you for one of those internet memes - see here Please feel free to ignore the meme if these chain-process things annoy you.



Sarah said...

I'm totally linking to this post in my own blog. Serious props for likening redneck sports to Dadaism. I'm very impressed.

Did you happen to see the news story on belt sander drag racing while you were home for the holidays?

Isaac said...

sarah: My first association after rednecks is always Dada. Reminds me of my childhood.

Unfortunately, I missed the belt-sander finals. I was helping my own Dada out in the shop.