Football and technology: at first sight, two things that couldn’t be further apart. In The Ball, The Field, The Arena, a video essay, the artist Florian van Zandwijk proves us wrong. He looks at the world’s most popular sport from a social-science perspective and depicts it through the lens of culture and technology. He starts from the premise of the book Homo Ludens (1938) by the Dutch cultural theorist Johan Huizinga, namely that play is both a primary and a necessary condition for the creation of culture. Van Zandwijk tests this thesis using football, and gives Huizinga contemporary currency by focusing on the most recent developments in the field of technology and media.
The almost 20-minute video essay on the intertwining of football, culture and technology is formed entirely of found footage. Three chapters give the work its title: the ball, the field, and the arena. In a whirlwind of fragments taken from television, social media, video games and advertisements we see how sooner or later everyone – whether in politics, professional life, or their free time – is confronted with football: from street kids to stars, from robots to world leaders. We see Trump and Putin using a football to put on a toe-curling display of affected fraternization. We see the influence of FIFA, a commercial video game which generations of children have played. We see how digital technology has become part of the physical vocabulary of the referee: if he wants to watch an instant video replay of a possible foul, he signals the outline of a screen with his fingers. Football has devoted an extraordinarily important role to mass media and technology. It is no coincidence that these are also hot topics in art and media art, where culture and technology also influence one another – and where politics is never far away.
Lastly, the soundtrack of The Ball, The Field, The Arena is as uplifting as it is agonizing. The first few seconds of the UEFA Champions League theme tune – Zadok the Priest by Georg Friedrich Händel, arranged by Tony Britten – are spun out over the entire length of the work; a sustained crescendo holds the viewer in its grip. Watching the work in a cinema becomes a collective experience, just like a football match. The insistence of the music creates a tension you could cut with a knife. As a spectator you might actually want to leave, but you soon realize: We’re in this together. And whether you’re there or not, the result is inescapable. At the end of the film the camera zooms out: the final shot. The ball is part of the field, the field is part of the arena, the arena is part of the city, the country, the continent, the world. The world is a football. Football is the world.
Sanneke Huisman is a media art writer and curator