Rodrigo Valenzuela: Video Works on view in the Nancy Hyatt Liddle Gallery features two video works by multi-disciplinary artist Rodrigo Valenzuela. A former day laborer in landscape, construction, and other sectors, Valenzuela frequently draws an analogy between soccer goalkeepers and his former job on an overnight cleaning crew in office buildings. In the two videos on view, Prole (2015) and El Sísifo (2015), sports provide a backdrop for investigating issues of race, labor, solidarity, and workers’ agency.
In Prole, Valenzuela has gathered several immigrant workers together to engage in two unscripted activities: indoor soccer and a discussion of worker unionization. The video’s title “prole” means “offspring” in Spanish. It is also the Latin root of “proletariat” or the “the working class” and according to Valenzuela, the son of a Chilean labor organizer, it can be used both in a derogatory manner by the privileged against the working class and as proud affirmation of class identity when spoken by a worker.
In El Sísifo, three voices speak about their Sisyphean commitment to their work while a split screen shows a man drawing diagrams on a chalkboard on the left and a crew cleaning a stadium post-game on the right. The first voice is the Bear Bryant (b. Arkansas, United States, 1913-1983), legendary 25-year head coach of the University of Alabama’s football team, giving a motivational speech to new players. The last voice is National Football League player and two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis (b. Florida, United States, 1975), delivering a pep talk on effort and brotherhood to the players at his alma mater, the University of Miami. Between Bryant and Lewis, one of the cleaners tell his story of migrating to the United States for work, declaring he is not ashamed of his labor and is willing to work hard at whatever he has to do.
The video slightly misleads the viewer. While listening to Bryant’s and Lewis’s voiceovers, we might assume the man on the left is drawing football plays on the chalkboard. In fact, he is drawing the strategies that he and his crew use to clean the stadium, a plan that involves teamwork and choreography analogous to game play.
Both videos offer a validation of the unseen labor behind the spectacles of sports and capitalism. With their intersection between personal voices and the politics of labor, capitalism, and collective action, they invite critical reflection on how labor is regarded in U.S. society and the effect that status has on real lives.
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