Sandy Gibbs

The swimming race (Mexico City) (2018)

4 min 10 secSingle channel / Digital Video / Colour / Sound

"This work documents my attempts to restage the final of the women’s 400 metres individual medley from the 1968 Mexico Olympics, and it thrust me into a situation that required ceding a certain amount of authorial control and autonomy.

Tracing a particular lineage through the conventions of performance art, Claire Bishop coined the term ‘delegated performance’ to describe “the act of hiring non-professionals … to undertake the job of being present and performing at a particular time and place on behalf of the artist, and following his or her instructions.” This, however, does not take into account the presence of the artist—me—also ‘undertaking and performing’ in the same artwork at the same time, and being as much a ‘non-professional’ as the other performers/competitors. Our ages were similar, and we were all older female swimmers together, but I really had no idea of their swimming abilities or even, indeed, if they would turn up on race day. I had handed over control. 

By substituting the youthful swimmers of 1968 with aged female counterparts fifty years later, this work is a direct engagement with the ageing female body and a riposte to the double standard of ageing that Susan Sontag identified in relation to older women: “The idea of an old woman in a bathing suit being attractive, or even just acceptable looking, is inconceivable.”

My failure to enlist any of the original swimmers from the 1968 race transformed the event as, predicated upon the thrall of an unknown outcome and through the methodology of restaging, the unplanned produced a new and different result. For, while The swimming project set out to restage an historic event, it deliberately sought to respond to and retain the thrall of an unknown outcome. Buoyed with uncertainty and precariousness, the project re-introduced the elements of chance and risk of personal failure for each of the competitors—and for me as the artist as well.

In this, The swimming project repositioned itself within the field of artistic restaging with a different method of making, one that was open ended, unrehearsed, and without a pre-determined outcome."

—Artist's statement

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