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New London exhibition combines art and sport like never before

With a title like ‘Pursuit of Perfection’ and the correlation between art and Olympic sports, you might think the exhibition at South London South Gallery would feature only the finest and most uplifting creations of the most revered Old Masters. You would be mistaken. The two-part display is instead a remarkable artistic interpretation of an often unacknowledged ‘dark side’ of sports, or at least some aspects behind and beyond gold medals.

Possibly the most startling contribution is Aleksandra Mir’s ‘Triumph’. A few years ago while living in Sicily Mir ran an ad offering to buy sports trophies that readers had won. She paid €5 each and ended up with more than 2,500 of them, to her own astonishment.

Now these mementos of triumph are (dis)arranged in the main gallery sort of like a last-minute jumble sale, piled in corners or perched on plinths, all looking rather shopworn and forlorn. The message may be the fleeting nature of fame or, more poignantly, the fleeting nature of the jubilation those winners felt and the importance they attached to the symbols of individual triumph.

There is definitely a connection between football and war; ask any major or minor-league player and the coaches that exhort them, for that matter any of the rabid fans who’ve been known to beat each other senseless during and after a contested match.

Right next to SLG in the Southwark town hall you’ll see football depicted as war in all its ambiguity with electronic teams running in circles on a battle field/football pitch. This is John Gerrard’s ‘Exercise (Djibouti)’ on the big screen.

From another perspective, Paul Pfeiffer’s ‘Caryatid’ sees football’s physical histrionics, leaps and dives and falls etc. with digital editing that turns them into dance. In this case Gerrard worked with a group of Olympic hopefuls to correlate the sport with military training maneuvers as well as theatrical performance.

Overall the exhibition meets at least two of the requirements for success; it is quite thought-provoking and immensely enjoyable, with elements of humor as well as pathos – sort of like sports.

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