Contributed by Astrid Dick / On December 18th, 2022, Argentina, my country of origin, won the FIFA World Cup in Qatar against France, my country of residence. It was perhaps the most epic and thrilling final in this international tournament’s history. Two months later, Argentina’s victory is still slowly settling in my mind. As time passes, I realize more than ever how football – or fútbol, soccer, calcio, etc – at its highest level is a collective practice that parallels the practice of art, where the individual and the team refine and adapt their senses and skill, where gestures leave their imprint in memory, and where a decisive move can determine the outcome.
The World Cup is unquestionably football’s most significant and awaited competition around the world. In this final match, every piquant element was present, and it turned out the stuff of Hollywood films. It was the inevitable, story-book confrontation. There was the “old” lion Lionel Messi, Argentina’s 35-year old tactical and passionate genius, fighting for the elusive title, his legacy, and the ghost of Maradona, in his fifth and presumably last World Cup. There was also his rival – also his teammate when they’re playing together for Paris Saint-Germain, France’s most successful club – the young force of nature, the 24-year old French star and sport’s future, Kylian Mbappé, who is already changing the game with his speed and power, and is winner of the prior World Cup.
After the throes of excitement about all this waned a bit, I began reflecting on Kant and Kantian power – that power, unbeknownst to the artist herself, to do something other than what she wants to do and thus offer the viewer the possibility to recognize and to combine in different ways several bodies into a single movement. Also on how the game of football, through its inclusive form, places itself ethically by allowing everyone to participate, players and spectators, all active actors in a united form of representation.
Each player is like a process-based artist, with an idea of what she wants to achieve but learning the final shape of the work of art through play. Messi, like a chess master intuiting through a highly sophisticated recognition of pattern and reading his opponents, moves two steps ahead, kicks the ball through a pin hole to create an opening across the pitch between the bunch of players between him and the goalie; or, sensing one’s wings, sending a ball to a side seemingly without a team mate who suddenly catches up to it, the speed on the pass perfectly timed and placed to his teammate so he doesn’t have to break stride and can finish the attack on the goal that Messi has created.
This is like a painter, brush in hand, with the premonition under her eyes of the alchemy between paint layers as she makes a mark, in a marriage between the rigor in calculation and the intuition fully realized, her hand “dribbling” with focus past material friction.
The match is a place for improvisation based on a set of rules and a set plan. Just like the art studio, it is a place where one can be free, or at least aspire to be, where preconceived ideas give room to new forms, where transformation is possible. On the pitch, men kiss and embrace and dance and sing and cry their guts out and lick each other’s tears, caressing hair, sweaty muscles, rolling over the ground like little boys. Like an artist’s commitment to the struggle in the studio in her quest for clarity and precision, it is in the confrontation of two teams that desire, in its deepest sense, opens up the possibility for the spiritual to be made manifest.
Getting in touch with unfiltered perception, directly expressing on the support of the field, two opposite sides, a referee, coaches, all amounting to a conduit for collective consciousness, the excitement of spectacle. Most remarkable are the fans and spectators in the stadium or watching in front of a screen, who constitute a chain of fervor and frenzy, sending paralyzing waves to the enemy, leaving all involved exhausted physically, emotionally and spiritually, as the national team depends on it. Their waiting, their chanting with banners and torches, tribunes responding to each other in a way evocative of profound archaic rituals.
Perhaps most lasting and impactful is a World Cup football match’s possibility for reminiscence. By contributing to the collective consciousness, a memorable World Cup final is a shared hallmark memory among many, and in the case of this tournament, that means millions of people across the globe.
What events have that reach? I can’t think of any joyful experience shared at such large scale. And isn’t it, according to Walter Benjamin, the luminous remnant of a past souvenir, as opposed to the direct shine of its present, what is most essential to our experience of beauty? The sport of football played as such is a reminder of our collective possibility for beauty. The art dealer Arne Glimcher tells the story of his visit with his grand child to painter Agnes Martin and how Martin took a rose out of a vase, hid it behind her back and asked the young girl if the rose was still beautiful as she could no longer see it. As the child answered in the affirmative, Martin replied, “You see Isobel, beauty is in your mind, not in the rose.”
As I continue to discuss the intricacies of the final with every taxi driver in Paris, or at the doctor’s office, or the corner café, it becomes clearer than ever that, indeed, beauty is not in the World Cup, nor in the sport of football itself, but in our collective mind.
In my studio, brush in hand, paints all around, a bit of a mess surrounding me, I can’t help sometimes but to be reminded of these gorgeous players’ artistry en la cancha – on the pitch. Perhaps a single fat brush stroke, or the choice of a color, evoke the joy and freedom in their play, that one gesture to seize the moment, to uncoil and strike with body, intention and spirit as one.
Football, art. Beautiful games. Y además…
¡Vamos Argentina Campeoooooooon!
About the author: Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Astrid Dick lives and works in Paris. She recently had a two-person show in New York with Erika Ranee at MDavid & Co. It was reviewed by John Yau at Hyperallergic.