No End Goal

Coumba Samba at Cell Project Space

June 13, 2024
By Antonia Blocker

Review

To inaugurate her exhibition, Capital, at Cell Project Space, Coumba Samba collaborated on a performance titled FIFA with Alesandra Seutin, Artistic Co-Director of the Senegalese dance school École Des Sables. A plexiglass pit filled with mud dominated the exhibition space. Three women in mismatched sportswear climbed in. They had already performed that evening, and were caked in mud from their foreheads to their football boots. After finding their footing and squaring their shoulders, the trio began an intense choreography. As the title of the performance suggested, their movements were indebted to a variety of male-dominated sports like football, Senegalese Laamb wrestling, and Queimada, a Brazilian version of dodgeball. The recognisable gestures of athletic showmanship were clear: the women placed their hands over their crotches, raised their fingers toward the heavens in cocky celebration, and engaged their entire bodies in aggressive embraces and throws. These intense movements were, however, rendered abstract and autonomous, as there were no clearly defined teams or equipment like footballs or goalposts. In other words, the purpose of competition was removed. Performance was the goal.

Coumba Samba and École des Sables, FIFA, Opening Performance, 2024, Coumba Samba – Capital, Cell Project Space, 2024. Courtesy Cell Project Space. Photo by Anne Tetzlaff.

Throughout the roughly half-hour-long performance, the performers’ energy ebbed and flowed. Their bodies tumbled and flailed, animated with awkward tics and twitches. At times, they performed synchronised and choreographed dance steps, before separating into other movements, one a forceful kick, another falling prostrate into the mud. The trio performed to a thumping soundscape by Gretchen Lawrence which was emitted from bullhorn speakers positioned in the corners of the exhibition space. Composed from field recordings in Senegal which comprised street sounds, voices, klaxons, and whistles, Lawrence’s cacophonous soundscape matched the performers’ frenetic and syncopated movements. Experiencing their unpredictable movement vocabulary was akin to watching an exhilarating football match.

Coumba Samba and École des Sables, FIFA, Opening Performance, 2024, Coumba Samba – Capital, Cell Project Space, 2024. Courtesy Cell Project Space. Photo by Anne Tetzlaff.

The Fédération internationale de football association (FIFA) has transformed football into a hugely profitable international spectacle. Along the way, it has also been plagued by arrests, indictments, and accusations of bribery throughout its organisational history. By eccentrically sampling from different sports, sounds, and cultural contexts to create their performance, Samba and Seutin cast a shadow on this supposedly harmonious global vernacular. Furthermore, the title of Samba’s exhibition suggests the potential for corruption in cultural circulation, especially when money is at stake.

Post-performance, the pit will be left in situ, along with a landscape of mud marked by the performers’ movements. These tracks are indicative of their performative intensity and the physical exertion of their bodies. Lawrence’s soundtrack will also be played for the duration of the exhibition. By centering these elements, Samba foregrounds the absent performance for the exhibition visitor, ascribing value and meaning not only to the action or performing bodies themselves, but to what, or who, is left behind.

Coumba Samba and École des Sables, FIFA, Opening Performance, 2024, Coumba Samba – Capital, Cell Project Space, 2024. Courtesy Cell Project Space. Photo by Anne Tetzlaff.

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