Sport, Sport, Sport: A Screening Programme of Soviet-Era Cinema and Artist Moving Image

In Collaboration with Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image and Transmission Gallery
With Glasgow Film Theatre and Kinning Park Complex
July 2014 - March 2015

Věra Chytilová ⁞ Isaak Fridberg ⁞ Elem Klimov ⁞ Phil Collins ⁞ Laura Horelli ⁞ Jo Longhurst  ⁞ Craig Mulholland ⁞ Salla Tykkä ⁞ Agnieszka Polska

A series of four events, ‘Sport, Sport, Sport’ was a screening programme of cinema and artist moving image, curated in collaboration with Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image and Transmission Gallery, Glasgow.

The programme was structured around three Soviet-era cinema works, all of which respond to gymnastics: Elem Klimov’s ‘Sport, Sport, Sport’ [1970], Věra Chytilová’s ‘Something Different’ [1963], and perestroika-era ‘Little Doll’ [1988] from Isaak Fridberg. Rarely or never seen before in the UK, translated and subtitled especially for the programme and all early-career works, the programme engages with the lack of critical material surrounding these films. This lack is mirrored in the absence of attention to sporting themes in artist moving image, and the programme as a whole draws upon the long-running ties between sport, the body in motion and early experiments in film. Through the juxtaposition of the works, the programme examined the relationship between sport in cinema and artist moving image, and  the influence of this particular period of film-making and its aesthetics in contemporary art.
Produced with support from University of London Extra-Mural History of Art Society (ULEMHAS) and Birkbeck School of Arts. With thanks to the artists; Diana Tsarelasvili; Mosfilm, AV-arkki: The Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art; Daniel Vadocký at the Czech National Film Archive, Renata Clarkova at the Czech Centre London and Sinisa Mitrovic at Shady Lane Productions. With special thanks to Laura Mulvey, Sarah Joshi and Ozan Kamiloglu at BIMI.


Laura Horelli  You Go Where You're Sent  2003
Isaak Fridberg  Little Dolls  1988
Phil Collins  Marxism Today (Prologue)   2010
Elem Klimov  Sport, Sport, Sport  1970
Craig Mulholland  Gymnasia   2014
Salla Tykkä  Giant  2013
Věra Chytilová  Something Different  1963
Jo Longhurst  Present  2013


Laura Horell is a visual artist, born in Helsinki and working in Berlin since 2001. Her works, mainly in video, explore the intersection of the private and public spheres, through her use of biography, family history, distance, interview and documentary. ‘You Go Where You Are Sent’ takes as its point of departure the participation of the artist’s grandmother in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, in the Finnish women’s gymnastics team. Her grandmother later – as a translator in Nazi Germany, the wife of a diplomat and a physician – continued to ‘represent her nation’ in differing manners, whose juxtaposition form the crux of the conversation. She discusses her attempts to balance her varying obligations as we view sequences of precisely cropped family photographs; her duties as a diplomat’s spouse were a priority, but where she could, she practiced her profession as a physician. Horelli’s method of biography calls into question the format’s reliance on the exceptional nature of the lives it records; conversely, it intimates how every family would be exceptional given the appropriate scrutiny. The film is divided into the periods of her husband’s postings, which coincided with some of the great traumas of the 20th century.

Born 1947 in Lithuania, Isaak Fridberg has directed films including ‘Night Whispers’ (1986), ‘Walk on the Scaffolding’ (1992), and ‘Little Dolls,’ from 1988: which ran twice at the Berlinale, first in 1989, and then re-released in 1997. The film won the Grand Prix au Festival des Films Sportifs à Lvov, Ukraine, in 1990, despite initial problems with censorship. Fridberg cast as the star of the film Svetlana Zasypkina, a Soviet gymnast who left the sport at the age of sixteen. After ten years of intense training and mirroring the plot of the film, she injured her spine whilst training. She was no longer able to perform any jumps, and training was no longer possible. Leaving gymnastics behind, Svetlana initially turned to acting, before training to become a gymnastics coach, switching to veterinary sciences, and eventually working in industrial business. A Russian documentary with a similar title – ‘Broken Dolls’ - was released in 2004, elaborating on themes from Fridberg’s films with interviews from a number of injured and retired Soviet gymnasts.

Born in 1970, Phil Collins grew up in the North of England. He studied at the University of Manchester, from which he graduated in 1994 (BA English Literature and BA Drama), and University of Ulster in Belfast, from which he graduated in 1999 (MA Fine Art). During this time he worked different jobs, including a cloakroom boy and pint-puller at the Hacienda nightclub, a bingo caller, a lecturer in performance and film theory, a high-street photo lab assistant, and a secretary at the Big Issue magazine for the homeless. Throughout the second half of the 1990s he was a member of London-based performance group Max Factory whose live art projects reached all corners of the UK and beyond. Collins received the Paul Hamlyn Award for Visual Arts in 2001, and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2006 and the Artes Mundi Prize in 2012. He has completed a number of international residencies, including DAAD Berliner Künstlerprogramm in Berlin, Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art in Jerusalem, and PS1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. marxism today (prologue), Collins’ 2010 film, was awarded 3sat-Förderpreis at the 57th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. Shining a light on what is generally perceived as the losing side in the political and social upheavals of the past two decades, ‘Marxism Today (Prologue)’ is an ongoing project that began with Collins following the fortunes of former teachers of Marxism-Leninism in Communist East Germany. This project is part of a longer interest in the artists’ practice across film, video and photography, that often provides a platform for the overlooked or the disenfranchised.

Born in Stalingrad in 1933 into a communist family, Elem Klimov graduated from Moscow's Higher Institute of Aviation in 1957. A filmmaker in the vanguard of perestroika, he was elected the First Secretary of the Soviet Filmmakers' Union in May 1986. He was to resign just two years later, his ambitious objectives for the organisation hindered by the state. In his lifetime, he produced five feature films: ‘Welcome, or No Trespassing’ (1964); ‘The Adventures Of A Dentist’ (1965); ‘Agony’ (1975); ‘Farewell’ (1981); and ‘Come And See’ (1985), which won the Golden Prize at the 14th Moscow International Film Festival. ‘Farewell’ was a film begun by Klimov’s wife, Larisa Shepitko, who died in a car accident in 1979. A year after her death, Klimov filmed a 25-minute tribute to his wife titled ‘Larisa’ (1980), then proceeding to finishing the film for her, which reflected on the dilemma of the price paid for progress when an old village in Siberia is to be destroyed, and its peasant community resettled in a development of faceless apartment blocks. Following Shepitko’s death, the remainder of his film output were tragedies. During his lifetime, many of Klimov’s films were censored of blocked, taking several rewrites and waiting several years before being released. Klimov died at the age of 70, on October 26, 2003.An early work and a film Klimov himself was dismissive of, ‘Sport, Sport, Sport’ is conceived on the surface as a documentary, appropriating footage from global sporting events held in the stadiums of Moscow, Philadelphia, Stockholm and Mexico City. Disguised behind allegory, the film is severely critical of the role of sport, and its relationship with politics, art and ethics. The ‘documentary’ element of the film is undercut by poker-faced pastiche technique, mixing styles and media into a disquietingly seditious stream of information. This culminates in a surrealist scene where Klimov stages a physical struggle between the famous athlete Jesse Owens and Adolph Hitler himself. ‘Reality,’ in the form of newsreel footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, is turned against itself, as the fans appear to cheer this surreal spectacle on. As such, the film caused discomfort among censors, who shelved it.

Craig Mulholland was born in Glasgow and studied Drawing and Painting at Glasgow School of Art. Recent exhibitions include TEMPORAL DRAG, Kendall Koppe, Glasgow, ILLEGITIMI NON CARBORUNDUM, LGP Gallery, Coventry,  DUST NEVER SETTLES, SWG3 Gallery, Glasgow, GRANDES ET PETITES MACHINES, Glasgow School of Art, touring in expanded form to Spike Island, Bristol, 2008, RISING RESISTANCE, Sorcha Dallas, Glasgow, HYPERINFLATION, Tate Britain, London. Mulholland was a recent recipient of the Glasgow Visual Artists Award, the Glasgow Festival of Visual Art Directors Commission and the Creative Scotland Artist Award. He lives and works in Glasgow and is currently course leader and lecturer in Fine Art at The Glasgow School of Art. His practice tends to operate in a liminal territory between the concrete and virtual, seeking to critically examine the aesthetic, cultural and ideological effects of dematerialising technologies and their increasing ubiquity. Recent work has focused on modes of resistance and compliance to their related power structures. ‘Gymnasia’ takes its inspiration from the non-hierarchical alignment between physical exercise and scholarly activity found in the ancient Greek institution of gymnasia. During this period most gymnasia, besides offering physical training, housed libraries and social areas for philosophical, artistic and literary discourse as well as the contemplation of aesthetics and music. This less structured intellectualism would have been underpinned by spontaneous lectures, presentations and theatrical performances. The film is intended to act as an arena for a study of the parallels between physical exercise and artistic activity, through a functioning hybrid of the creative/ theatrical laboratory and the self-improvement centre or gym. Through this lens the project specifically seeks to examine themes of endurance, practice and performance between these disciplines. ’Gymnasia’ was produced as a Director’s Commission for the 2014 Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art.

Salla Tykkä  is a visual artist, born and working in Helsinki, who has been working with film and video since 1996. Tykkä is renowned for video works that use subtle narratives to engage with power relations, gender antagonisms, voyeurism, identity, obsession and perfection. Her dramatically edited footage plays with cinematic structures, and is often set to familiar, grandiose film scores. ‘Giant’ is the final work in a trilogy of films – instigated in 2008 - that each explore differing notions of beauty and perfection, all informed by the colour white. ‘Giant’ originates in the artists’ awareness of her body’s abilities and inabilities through her own practicing of gymnastics in her childhood, and her fascination with Romanian gymnastics, which she returned to through watching the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Revisiting to this fandom in adulthood, her enquiry takes in the complexity of these gymnasts as figureheads, subject to the control of the centralised training academy and the political dictatorship of the time. Through gymnastics – which defines itself as creating beauty out of exact control of bodily movement - the artist asks from where our concepts of beauty originate, and how they mirror historical narratives of power. Tykkä graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki 2003 and participated in the Venice Biennale 2001. Solo exhibitions include: BALTIC Arts Centre, Gateshead 2013; EX3, Florence, 2011; Hayward Gallery Project Space, London, 2010; Norrköping Art Museum, Norrköping, 2009. Her work has also been shown at film festivals including the 36th International Film Festival Rotterdam, Rotterdam, 2007; 21st Brest European Short Film Festival, Brest, 2006; Tribeca Film Festival, New York, 2003; and International Short Film Festival Ober­hausen, Oberhausen, 2003 and 2002.

Věra Chytilová was born in 1929, in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, initially studying architecture and philosophy, before working as a draftsman, fashion model and then as a clapper girl at the Barrandov Studios. She enrolled at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), studying under Otakar Vavra, and graduating in 1962. ‘Daisies’ (1966), her most known work, cemented her international reputation, but was censored upon its release in then-Czechoslovakia. Although she was never officially blacklisted as a director, the authorities thenceforth made it difficult for her to produce her work. Her last film before the Soviet Invasion of 1968 was ‘Fruit of Paradise’ (1969), following which she was unable to make another film for eight years. Due to international pressure and a personal appeal to the President, she was allowed to resume film-making in 1976 with ‘The Apple Game,’ after which she worked steadily throughout the 80s in to the early 90s. She produced her last film in 2006, ‘Pleasant Memories.’  She was awarded the 1967 Bergamo Film Festival Grand Prix; 1977 Chicago; International Film Festival Silver Hugo; 1980 Pretas Story International Film Festival in San Remo Grand Premio; and 2001 Czech Lions Artistic Achievement Award. Chytilová died at the age of 85 in Prague, on 12 March 2014.‘Something Different’ was Chytilová’s first feature length film, premiering at the 1963 Mannheim Film Festival and winning the award for Best Film. An early experiment from the Czech New Wave director, it is a film of two halves: following two women, both unhappy with their circumstances and contemplating the choices they have towards an alternative existence. As the film progresses, the vast gaps between their realities begin to dissolve as clear overlaps emerge. For all that Eva initially seems to have more independence, material wealth and agency, it is she who is subject to constant criticism of her performance, wear-and-tear on her joints and muscles, and physical violence from her coach. It is instead Vera who breaks the mould, seeking out an extra-marital affair. The film is an early example of Chytilová’s experimental nature, and demonstrates her preoccupation with feminist issues that later came to the fore with ‘Daisies.’ 

Jo Longhurst is an artist based in London and a professor of photography and fine art at the Birmingham School of Art. In 2008, Longhurst graduated from the Royal College of Art, London, with a practice-led PhD and came to prominence with ‘The Refusal,’ a solo exhibition curated by Ute Eskildsen at the Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany. In the same year she was selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries by Richard Billingham, Ceal Floyer, and Ken Lum; won a Pavilion Commission for new work hosted by the National Media Museum, Bradford, UK; and was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship to support the development of a new body of work, ‘Other Spaces.’ She has exhibited internationally in many art galleries and museums including ‘Present,’ Sporobole, Quebec; ‘Other Spaces,’ Mostyn, Llandudno; ‘The Worldly House,’ dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel; ‘Artists’ Symposium on Perfection,’ Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK; ‘Photography in Britain since 2000,’ Krakow, Poland; ‘Cocker Spaniel and Other Tools for International Understanding,’ Kunsthalle zu Kiel, Germany; ‘Becoming Animal, Becoming Human,’ NGBK, Berlin, Germany; and ‘Future Face,’ National Museum of Natural Science, Taichung, Taiwan. ‘Present’ seeks to convey the intensity of the moment before a performance, when the gymnast, at the height of her concentration, salutes the members of the jury evaluating her. As the gymnasts prepare for action, their disciplined minds and bodies are presented to camera, revealing moments of slippage between private introspection and public display. The repetition of the same motif within the image highlights the singularity of the work’s protagonists. The installation’s loops and stutters in film. Through the links between the works, the programme aims to examine the relationship between sport in cinema and artist moving image, in tandem with the influence on this particular era of film-making and its aesthetics in contemporary art.