|So, this afternoon, at State University, I attended a talk being given by a candidate for a position in women's studies -- not a program I'm affiliated with, but several of my friends are, and the talk was about failure. I have an abiding and personal interest in failure, so I went. I'm going to bypass the larger claims of the talk -- which were all about recuperating failure as a mode of resistance to hegemony -- to focus on one of the cases that was described. This is something that I hadn't heard of, and found kind of amazing. Maybe everybody else knows it, but here it is anyway. Despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the Renaissance.|
Apparently, for the 2000 Syndney Olympics, the organizers invited Tracey Moffat, an Australian aboriginal artist, to produce a series of photographs of the events. The work that resulted was titled "Fourth," and it consisted of a series of images of people who came in fourth in their events.
You can see the images here.
Fourth, of course, because they're the people who disappear from history altogether -- the people who, even if they're only 1/10,000th of a second behind the first-place person, get nothing, no medal, no mentions on the TV, squat. And, at least our speaker suggested, "Fourth" also because it evokes the "Fourth World," that is, those communities of indigenous peoples "successfully" colonized by white settler societies.
The images are amazing: largely, they're images of total isolation, exclusion, misery. In some of them, you see gestures of consolation -- a disembodied hand reaching out to offer a pat on the back; the offer of a bottle of water; a hug. But in each case the gesture is so clearly futile, if well-meant, that the pathos and the isolation are just increased. In some images, you see the winners standing right next to the losers, but in totally different worlds -- for instance, an image in which one woman, a smiling swimmer, is being interviewed by a reporter, while another woman is standing next to her in complete dejection, head hanging down, one hand on her hip, miserable. The winner and the reporter are washed out, almost into gray, while the loser appears in full or even enhanced color.
I suspect that the Sydney Olympics people were not pleased.