Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — To stand in the middle of the arena and let the cheers and buzz of the crowd run through you; to feel the grass, control your breathing, know where your teammates are, blindly, at any time; to experience the game as if it were in slow motion, seeing every action before it happens. That’s when you truly inhabit the game; that is Zinedine Zidane in his best days.
When I was contemplating on an article that would discuss all those great art works dealing with football as subject, the one underneath, ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’, stuck to me. It is a feature film by the artists Philip Parreno and Douglas Gordon. In 2005 they filmed football player Zinedine Zidane during the match Real Madrid – Villa Real with seventeen film camera’s, real-time, 90 minutes long.
It stands out from other ‘football art’ because, rather than turning the sport into a metaphor, it examines the essential quality of the game: a highly concentrated site where performance, narrative, sound and movement interplay with each other. The video, in relation to that, is a symphony and dramatization of these settings. It filters out all disturbing elements and focuses on Zidane moving, breathing, scanning the game and playing the ball.
In complete… control.
Fragment from ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ by Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno
Those few occasions when I really excelled in my work, I remember having that feeling of complete control over all the circumstances. I’d reckon that in a football match, in order to succeed and win, you would need that feeling all the time. Therefore, a field, or a stadium, isn’t just the stage for a match as such, it also functions as a setting that meets all the conditions required for gaining that complete control and filters out everything that frustrates it. That’s the setting of Parreno and Gordon’s film about Zidane.
“I can hear someone shift around in their chair… I can hear someone coughing… I can hear someone whisper in the ear of the person next to them… I can imagine that I can hear the ticking of a watch”
– Zinedine Zidane
Examining these circumstances reminds me of some of the great works by the early conceptualists and performance artists in the sixties. They too focused on the characteristics of their environment: Bruce Naumann measured his studio, Douglas Huebler photographed the sky over different cities and Dan Graham described his audience in one of his performances. ‘Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait’ fascinates me because it captures all those conditions in one work and celebrates Zidane as one of the best football players ever, for being able to master and control all those circumstances and excel.
Yes, the Dutch do great at the current European Championship and I am absolutely thrilled! But this first tournament without Zidane… I guess I still have to get used to that…