On Saturday, while most people flocked to Wembley for England’s qualifier for the European Championships against Estonia, I travelled to the area for more artistic reasons, to see Paul Pfeiffer‘s new Artangel installation, The Saints. The show is being held in a disused warehouse just opposite the new stadium, continuing Artangel’s tradition for showing work in unusual and atmospheric venues.
While I may have missed the England game, knowing it was going on so near provided a good backdrop to Pfeiffer’s artwork, which explores the role of the audience in major sporting events. On entering the warehouse space, it initially seems empty apart from the epic noise of a roaring crowd. As a viewer, you are suddenly placed at the centre of the scene, with the crowd cheering, chanting and singing all around, creating an impact that’s both exciting and a little unnerving.
It then turns out that the sound effects are taken from the 1966 World Cup final between England and Germany which adds a level of poignancy although, despite the cries for Bobby Moore and Nobby Stiles, it really could have been any crowd, in any country, at any point in history. To reinforce this every-game sensation, Pfeiffer has mixed new audience sounds in amongst the archive footage, taken from a crowd of young Filipinos the artist brought together in Manila to watch the 1966 game while cheering on the England side. A film of this audience is shown next to the original World Cup match at the back of the space, and with this aspect of the work Pfeiffer raises complex questions of national identity and the notion of empire.
Pfeiffer’s final addition to the installation is more in keeping with earlier works by the artist, where he has manipulated sporting footage by removing crucial details, with surreal results. For this piece, a tiny video screen in the centre of the installation plays a doctored version of the 1966 footage, with all the players bar one removed from the scene. The lone figure is thus rendered redundant and foolish without his team mates, playing with no apparent purpose in the face of a baying crowd.
The Saints will continue until October 28. More info is at www.artangel.org.uk.