The dread of arts funding: LIFESPORT discuss their sweatpants alternative

, 10 January 2017
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“Sweatpants are everywhere, they defy notions of social stratification, gender and age. Sweatpants unite contradiction, they are a symbol of defeat or paralysis for some, a statement of ultimate resistance and emancipation for others. At the very least, they are really comfortable, fit everyone and wash at 40 degrees,” declare LIFE SPORT.

Initiated by the founders of Caribic Residency, LIFESPORT has been running an art space in Athens since 2014, recently setting up (as of January 2017) a second space in Berlin, and premiering their first exhibition on January 21 with Universe. Running to February 20, the show will feature work by Morag Keil, Stefanos Mandrake with Bill Lee, Lulou Margarine, Puppies Puppies, Vasilis Zarifopoulos & Andreas Simopoulos, Bonnie Camplin and Nina Cristante.

LIFESPORT facebook cover photo. Courtesy LIFESPORT, Athens.

In an effort to “reclaim independence and self-empowerment,” the project fund their exhibitions, talks, spoken word events and presentations solely through the sale of sweatpants. The group’s name refers to their interest in the exhausting notion of “life as sport” and is responding to the growing need to cope and collaborate as a community. 

** How do you describe yourselves?

LIFE SPORT: We try to avoid definition as to what we are or who we are (we are a mix of artists, curators, others). For us it is important to keep blurring the singular (artist) identity, as a means to value collective initiative and achievement.

** Is this project a result of running into financial troubles?

LS: We came to Athens with Caribic Residency, which is kind of the parent project to LIFE SPORT. Caribic is an emergent artist residency model that is based on encounter, synergy and shared experience. Before Athens it was based in other European cities, until a physical location no longer served the project.

The idea for LIFE SPORT was pretty immediate after arriving in Athens- we had the desire to generate our own funding for Caribic’s activities as well as being able to do exhibitions in Athens with a new project. Applying for arts funding has always been difficult, as our focus doesn’t fit the usual application requirements. Arts funding is usually limited to a fixed geographical location or national identity and a predictable outcome, and we aim to defy all of that.

** Do you make the merchandise yourself?

LS: The sweatpants are produced in Athens with a small family business, while the major textile industry has left. A couple of our sweatpants editions utilise sweatpants from other brands, which started with the need for a faster, more efficient and affordable production but turned into a valuable creative process of embracing co-existence.

** Are you going to open up a space in Berlin after the show, and/or any other spots around the world?

LS: We have opened a second (temporary) space in Berlin in January this year and want continue to do pop-up versions and exhibition contributions with LIFE SPORT.

** Could you tell us a little bit about why you chose sweatpants as the object to sell or why only this sole piece of clothing and not others?

LS: Sweatpants are the ideal product. They are popular and easy, comfortable but not polite. Everyone wears them! The idea for the product started by focusing on people wearing sweatpants everywhere, especially in Athens. It is not about reinventing sweatpants or following a capitalist entrepreneurial ambition, but creating our own ‘brand’ that serves our aim to generate funds for a collective. If it works out, LS could be an alternative to both arts funding and to the commercial gallery model.

Stefanos Mandrake, ‘Black on black, (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + LIFESPORT.

** Do all the shows you put on deal with a similar political/economic standpoint that relates back to how it was funded in the first place, or is it just a means to an end?

LS: All of our activities are about survival, survival of alternatives. We believe that we can’t stop trying.

** Who/what do you think you are trying to ‘reclaim independence’ from as stated in your bio?

LS: LIFE SPORT aims to reclaim emancipation to make our own choices. We are soft radical. Financial independence is the first step to keep going and not be limited by external factors that dictate most art production.**

The Universe group exhibition is on at LIFE SPORT Berlin, opening January 21 and running to February 20, 2017.