As part of the Magic Lantern art event at Children’s Fairyland—when the normally kids-only park stayed open late for adults, and projection artists were invited by curator Mary Anne Kluth to install site-specific works among the park’s ten acres of themed sites—we staged a live, projected thumb-wrestling event. Volunteer participants had the opportunity to challenge each other to a match of regular thumb-wrestling, jello thumb-wrestling, or “mud” thumb-wrestling (actually chocolate pudding), within a marked “ring” and several large vats specially prepared by FICTILIS.
The live activity onstage was simultaneously projected, using an overhead camera device called the Video Visualizer, onto a giant screen behind the participants. The matches were refereed by a uniformed, whistle-carrying member of FICTILIS with help (i.e. influence) from spectators. A live loop of 30 different versions of “Gonna Fly Now” (the theme from Rocky) played through the stage’s speakers.
By presenting a piece of informal schoolyard culture in the manner of a live sporting event, we were able to foreground those elements of violence/aggression and sexual dynamics which may inhere in even the simplest of children’s games (several of our matches got pretty “dirty”). Our reframing may have also suggested some analogies between sporting culture and art/performance culture, especially the notions of competition and audience/spectator. But ultimately, the primary “problem” this performance sought to address was the constant obligation of artworks aimed at an adult audience to perform their own theoretical justification and ornamentation. As one spectator at the event asked us, “What’s the idea here? What’s the concept?” There may be none at all—it may be just thumb-wrestling.