POSTED BY: Heather White, Art Sync
The Tie-Break is incredible. The main axis of the exhibit, now at Neubacher Shor Contemporary, is a video work comprising footage from Tibi Tibi Neuspiel and Geoffrey Pugen’s October 2011 Nuit Blanche performance of the same name. That night, for twelve hours, the duo posed as rivals, try and trying again to recreate the famous 1980 tennis match of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe — stroke for stroke, outburst for outburst.
Among the impossibilities of the game’s perfect duplication were the conspicuous differences of setting offered by 2011 Toronto at night. The autumnal restaging featured our city’s iconic streetcars gliding by, our age’s ubiquitous smartphones angling for photos, and Nuit Blanche’s staple drunken revellers punctuating the performance with their impassioned slurs. It was a coup for performance art, as fun to watch as it is fascinating to ponder.
Video documentation of the event now plays on one wall of Neubacher Shor Contemporary, recontextualized yet again in a mise-en-abyme of compounding site-specificity. To see this show is to confront a particular historical moment, recreated at another particular historical moment, playing on a loop at this particular historical moment. This latest is the most conspicuously aesthetic: now, the video is complemented by artifacts designed in direct response to the gallery space.
Of these artifacts, three pieces – all variations of each other – stood out to me. Each is a rectangle of wooden stretcher bars, strung across with a grid of synthetic racket gut. They read like the children of a tennis racket and a painting; their aesthetics hover somewhere between readymades and Agnes Martins. They boast that elusive combination that make The Tie-Break so winning: compelling visuals with conceptual content. With their subdued pallet and the undulating geometry of their woven grid, Strung Stretchers 1,2, and 3 hold the eye as much as the mind.
I was fascinated by how they alienated the hand. On the wall, the tactile value of the objects are removed from circulation; tautness becomes visual. Their latent potential to bounce something back made me think of mirrors. A friend pondered whether, as artworks, these objects retained the racket’s invisible ‘sweet spot’; I thought of vanishing points.
And then I thought of the perspectival grids developed in the Renaissance to help artists recreate scenes more believably. It’s unclear whether Pugen and Neuspiel intended to invoke this particular connotation; it doesn’t matter. Art – conceptual work especially – withstands and even requires the interpretations of its viewers. The reference makes sense to me because this project is so methodological in its transposition, and so attuned to the march of art history. Pugen and Neuspiel’s meticulous mapping didn’t make me believe they were McEnroe and Borg, but did provoke in me a different, deeper kind of credibility in their game.
The Tie-Break continues at Neubacher Shor Contemporary until Feb 4.
Top and middle image: http://neubachershor.com/events/the-tie-break-tibi-tibi-neuspiel-and-geoffrey-pugen/ Last image: http://www.webexhibits.org/sciartperspective/raphaelperspective1.html