Demand Utopian Sports
In 2018 as part of my fellowship at YBCA, I curated an event called “Demand Utopian Sports,” in order to explore the radical possibilities of sports as a cultural practice. I invited artists and critics whose work relates to sports and we posted up in the YBCA yard to do movement exercises and listen to audio exercise tapes made by experimental artists and poets. I produced a publication of essays and conversations that we gave away at the event.
FROM THE PUBLICATION INTRODUCTION
When I imagined writing this, I imagined it like a manifesto. I even dreamed about it. Maybe I dreamed about it. I don’t really remember my dreams, but I think I might have seen this in a dream: A kind of dark, underwater dream where I’m at a blackboard, knocking this out, manifesto-style—point one, point two, point three… My gestures are decisive. In my dream there is urgency. But, in my awake life, I don’t really know how to write like that. I don’t really know how to think like that. I’m kind of slow. I feel like it takes me like ten extra years to figure anything out.
I've spent a lot of time in the last year or so thinking about sports. Looking at the most positive aspects of sports-world: the screaming, sweaty communities sports is so great at gathering. The feeling of movement. Of winning. I've been talking with friends—well, mostly Jordan Karnes (hi Jordan!)—about what great potential there is in sports-world. We've been talking a lot about competition, history, narratives, and power.
I tend to focus on the potentials of things. I'm always looking for different possibilities. That’s kind of my default. So before I get too far along, I have to say—even with the many positive possibilities sports-world has—at this point, many of the worst expressions of our world are located within and around sports. Racism, sexism, transphobia, misogyny. Surrounding much of contemporary sports is an undeniably brutal, conservative, patriarchal worldview.
And this is not by accident. This is a deep thing. Sports as we know them today are nothing if not the products of the rise and spread of global capitalism. People just didn't play games in this way in the past. There were festival games, and small games, but nothing like today. Since the 18th century, sports and capitalism have developed hand in hand. One reinforcing the other—capitalism providing the motive and logic for sports to become the multi-billion-dollar world entertainment giant it is today; while the metaphors of sports (competition as a way of life, the idea of a ‘level playing field’, being a good sport, etc) provide the deep commonsense frameworks for capitalism to inhabit nearly every facet of contemporary life.
So, I’ve been thinking—with all this positive potential of sports, that is so deeply wtapped up in this brutal exploitative, ridiculous bullshit—what would happen if we tried to pull them apart? What would happen if we work to unbraid sports from capitalism? And vice versa? Not to go back to a pre-capitalist idea of game-playing, but to take what sports has become over the last three hundred years or so, and do something with that. What would happen if we started playing on courts of our own design? What if we demanded utopian sports?
This booklet—and the event it goes along with—are the first pieces in a series that will be produced under the banner of The Bay Area Center for Utopian Sports. The aim of the center is to create new sports for a new world. Or, to create a new world for new sports. Maybe it works either way. We'll see.
As with any utopian process, there are a zillion different possible expressions. What is important is not necessarily one particular idea, but of the process of thinking in a utopian way. A way that rejects the set parameters of the present and imagines a radically expanded future.
So this is just the beginning of a year or so of working with artists, writers, designers, and sports players—through a series of public performances and programs to create and play a season of utopian sports.
See you on the court!