Why five AFL players are being suspended from the ceiling of a Melbourne art gallery

For three hours on Sunday, five players will be suspended in the foyer of the NGV, tied up in rope to recreate a famous mark

The National Gallery of Victoria and the AFL may not be the most obvious bedfellows, but for three hours this weekend, these worlds will collide. Walk through the gallery doors between 2-5pm on Sunday and you’ll find five AFL and AFLW players – Annie Mack, Jason Ball, Jasper Pittard, Jim Marks and Simona Castricum – being strung up in the Great Hall foyer, their bodies contorting around rope to become living works of art.

This is the Melbourne iteration of Still Lives, which forms a part of the Rising arts festival lighting up the city this winter. Helmed by artists Luke George and Daniel Kok, Still Lives uses human bodies and rope to recreate iconic images; when they performed Still Lives at the Venice Biennale in 2019, it centred on the gondola, a symbol of the Italian city. When it came to Melbourne, AFL was the obvious choice, especially after the pandemic ground entertainment and culture in the city to a halt – now that everything has reopened, how and where does art and sport intersect?

Still Lives
‘A split-second moment extended over three hours’. Photograph: Gregory Lorenzutti

“AFL is intertwined with so many important social issues that are relevant to Melbourne,” says Kok. “As we work with the football players, anything about their own personal narratives, their own relationships to growing up in the city and playing the game, all become part of the fabric that we’re weaving together.”

At Still Lives Melbourne, the athletes’ bodies will recreate Minang and Inggarda player Andrew Krakouer’s award-winning mark for Collingwood in 2011, an image that struck both artists for its choreographic form.

“I’ve always been interested in sports photography, because you see all these players in very dynamic positions, and it happens really fast,” says Kok. “The idea of this split-second moment extended over three hours, taking time to tie the players one by one to get them as close as possible to that image – that really excited us.”

There’s a strong intersectional element to the installation, which runs alongside the NGV’s major Queer exhibition. Both artists are gay, and the participating players include members of the LGBTQ+ community, activists and First Nations people. “Not having any relationship to footy, the process started through personal connections with queer people,” George says. “Footy is in this reckoning moment, where it’s starting to really expand to be a more inclusive space.”

Spectators will see the artists work with the players to string them up – a slow, reflective process. It’s as much about the before and during as the after: the build-up and the connection that engenders. Part of the joy and complexity of the installation will only become evident on the day.

“We’ll massage them into a meditative state with us, calmly going through the steps and gradually being ready for the suspension. Then everybody will finally be suspended in that crescendo moment, where everybody is rising up into the air together,” Kok says. “It’s a real journey not just for us, but also for the audience.”

George anticipates that curious spectators will include “people who are avid footy fans, people who are there because of Rising, and people who like rope bondage – something fascinating can come from creating this space.”

“For these different groups of people to intersect in one event is something we’re very excited by, having all of them looking at the same thing,” says Kok. “What happens when they see each other, when they spot that somebody who is watching is different to themselves, or watching in a different way? To us, that is a very big political question.”


Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
From Athens with love: the NGV’s dizzying recreation of the Parthenon
Temple of Boom sees the ancient monument reconstructed and covered with art in the gallery’s garden, inviting the public to reflect on its beauty – and complicated history

Nathan Dunne

21, Nov, 2022 @2:00 PM

Article image
Dazzling, subversive, confronting: inside Queer, a landmark Australian art show
From ancient Egypt to Kylie, this NGV exhibition celebrates camp, gender, love and activism, to dispel the idea that art ‘is heterosexual until proven otherwise’

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

09, Mar, 2022 @4:30 PM

Article image
‘Audiences will be delighted’: major Picasso exhibition set for Melbourne in June
The National Gallery of Victoria’s exclusive show will also feature more than 100 works from Picasso’s contemporaries

Sian Cain

04, Mar, 2022 @12:00 AM

Article image
Rising festival ‘hits pause’ the day after opening as Melbourne enters lockdown
Organisers of the hotly anticipated arts festival, which has already been cancelled once, say they are not making any ‘knee-jerk decisions’

Stephanie Convery

27, May, 2021 @5:34 AM

Article image
Will the AFLW herald changing times for gay players in the men's game? | Kate O'Halloran
There is some hope the AFL’s new lovechild will force the hand of the old guard when it comes to the shadow of homophobia that lingers in the game

Kate O'Halloran

12, Feb, 2017 @11:39 PM

Article image
‘Hopefully some people hate it’: the immersive film about capitalism coming to Melbourne
Starring Cate Blanchett and Giancarlo Esposito, Julian Rosefeldt’s Euphoria is coming to Australia after Rising festival’s co-artistic director was compelled by it in New York

Sian Cain

13, Feb, 2023 @11:44 PM

Article image
‘AFL players are concerned’: how the black summer fires spurred Tom Campbell to act on climate change
Training indoors as bushfires raged forced the St Kilda ruckman to re-evaluate football’s role in the climate crisis

Marnie Vinall

12, May, 2022 @1:20 AM

Article image
AFL scrambles again as Melbourne lockdown causes chaos for sport
The AFL is again scrambling to keep its season on track as Victorians prepared to enter a seven-day circuit-breaker lockdown in response to the growing Covid-19 cluster

Mike Hytner

27, May, 2021 @1:26 AM

Article image
AFL grand final to be played outside Melbourne for first time in history, Daniel Andrews confirms
Victoria’s premier confirms that the coronavirus outbreak will force the game’s relocation interstate

Guardian sport

24, Aug, 2020 @5:47 AM

Article image
‘A genius is a sponge’: inside the new Picasso exhibition that isn’t all about Picasso
The Picasso Century at Australia’s NGV sees the artist share the spotlight with 50 of his contemporaries, and explains how one man could ‘catch and translate all the values of a time’

Elizabeth Flux

10, Jun, 2022 @8:00 PM