Camden Arts Centre, London 23 September-13 November, 2005
Bringing together work made over the last five years, Buchanan explores the familiar to reveal the politics of the everyday: an erudite consideration of place and circumstance illuminating the structures of collective identity. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu discussed how each person plays a part in the ‘social game’ through their habits, assumptions, beliefs, and behaviours. Often related to geography, they develop from a desire for a sense of belonging. In a number of works Buchanan looks at the manifestation of the social game in the playing and consumption of sport; relationships between players and spectators, the facts of winning and losing, create micro-systems of wider society.
Football is tied to place and allegiance: the teams people support are inevitably tied up with personal senses of belonging. Buchanan’s plasma screen piece, ‘83/03’, follows Aberdeen Football Club’s journey through Europe in 1983, when the team won the Cup Winners Cup hands-down. A DVD lists twelve segments for the viewer to select from using a remote control; each titled with the results of a particular match and shows an individual reading from sports reports of the match in the local team’s newspaper. Seated in libraries, the readers seem hesitant, perhaps unused to reading to camera, or unfamiliar with football, or maybe they are still smarting from the absolute defeat that took place some twenty years previously.
In the same room, the collage projection ‘Tombez la Chemise’ clips television coverage of the World Cup showing the end-of-game ritual where footballers from opposing teams exchange shirts. The disappointment of defeat joins the euphoria of winning. It is difficult to identify who has won and who has lost, such is the intensity of the emotion. Knowledge of football is not the point—the sport is the means through which social identity and unity in the act of opposition are explored.
Swapping one leisure activity ‘football’, for another, ‘gallery-going’ illustrates how individuals ally themselves with others they see as similar. Bourdieu describes the role of taste in the social game as being strongly related to perceptions of class. Buchanan ignores such demarcations, bringing the popular sports pages into the context of the library and art gallery, institutions of supposedly privileged knowledge. In ‘History Painting’ he refers to an art historical genre that traditionally captures ‘noble themes’ for posterity. However instead of depicting the elite, as is usual in this genre, he shows the newest recruits in this large-scale projection. The camera passes over the faces of privates from the Madras Regiment, based in India, and the Scottish Infantry Division—cohorts historically linked by the Battle of Assaye in 1803 where they joined forces. These men are not like the combatants of history paintings or Hollywood actors in military movies. Each one seems too young for combat: as individuals they may be incapable, but with collective unity comes strength, not unlike that of players and spectators in a game.
Lisa Le Feuvre is curator of contemporary art at the National Maritime Museum and teaches at Goldsmith’s College, London