Thursday, August 25, 2011

Search Party vs Launceston

The familiar bells of Launceston’s iconic town clock rang to the tune of ten. A small but dedicated crowd began to close in on a seldom seen sight in the Brisbane Street Mall; a Table Tennis table. As I neared, I spotted the Mayor of our city, Alderman Albert van Zetten, decked out in a matching silver sports outfit ready to be the first opponent against Search Party’s Jodie Hawkes. After a rousing speech throwing down the gauntlet to the people of Launceston, Search Party’s co-creator, Pete Phillips, declared that the competition had begun.
Search Party challenges Launceston
And so it did, though providing stiff competition, and after a surprisingly brief amount of time, our Mayor overshot the table at matchpoint and Search Party notched up number one. Not a great start, but with three days of constant competition, Launcestonians still have a chance. Disappointingly, after the initial match, curiosity waned, crowds dissolved and were replaced with casual observers and passers by. This didn’t last for long of course, but it is an indication of the nature of Search Party vs. and I suspect is a clue to the duration of the piece.
Upon initial engagement, to the uninitiated bystander it could be misinterpreted as entertainment, a participatory event by which the public could observe or play for a few minutes and have a bit of fun. While these are indeed elements of the piece, there is more going on here that can be identified as the true undercurrent of the work. One only needs to watch almost any kind of sport to witness, and indeed become a part of, a passion focused on one side or the other. Social divisions in one location and context become unified when placed in another. The AFL springs to mind as an obvious example of people en masse coming down on one side of the fence and letting in be known, often loudly.

It is this fervor of pack mentality that UK art duo Search Party hint at with this clever work. While decidedly outnumbered, Phillips and Hawker host this marathon in their super-slick red jerseys boasting a confident presence, while challenging our community spirit. Why? Because it is important. There are connections that can be made within a community, strengths to be indentified and a unity in allegiance that sport holds high above its head on the podium next to religion and politics. I love the fact that this performance raises questions about audience, the spectator, and furthermore about collaboration, and most definitely about place.
This is the first time Search Party have brought their work to Australia, and I am intrigued by the fact that in which ever town or city they choose to challenge, there is the potential for identification of a common thread. The location will be different, the people guaranteed to be diverse, the atmosphere over three days will likely fluctuate and evolve, but maybe, just maybe, Search Party can hold a mirror up to communities to reflect unification. The kind of unification that isn’t born out of disaster and doom, but rather out of the wielding of a small round bat and the hitting of a small round ball.

Search Party will end the marathon tournament in the final days of the Junction Arts Festival at 4pm on Saturday the 27th of August.
Launceston, consider yourself found.

Patrick Sutczak

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