‘The Olympics have been used by every society that has hosted it as a PR thing. It is a huge event meant to be neutral, but it is so imbued by politics and power it is, for me, something obvious to be played about with and subverted’
Spanning over two metres in width, Olga Korbut is a seminal work from Lucy McKenzie’s celebrated multi-media practice. Spliced and splintered as if refracted through a prism, the work depicts the renowned Belarusian gymnast – nicknamed ‘the sparrow from Minsk’ – who captured the hearts and minds of the public at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Just seventeen years old at the time, Korbut was awarded one silver and three gold medals for her innovative, daring and charismatic performances. Her notorious parallel bars routine, which featured several mistakes on her first attempt, only seemed to strengthen the public’s adoration, with the audience imploring the judges to raise her final score. Executed in 1998, the work is among the most important early statements of McKenzie’s politically and socially engaged practice. ‘I think I only realised in my final year, after a year out in Germany, that the Olympics aesthetic was a way to talk about all the things I’m interested in – sexual politics, communism, fascism, totalitarianism, racism, power’, she has explained. ‘The Olympics have been used by every society that has hosted it as a PR thing. It is a huge event meant to be neutral, but it is so imbued by politics and power it is, for me, something obvious to be played about with and subverted’ (L. McKenzie, quoted in A. Donald, ‘Beyond the London Loop’, The Herald Scotland, 6 April 2000). Korbut – who was famously told by President Nixon that she had done more for Cold War relations than any embassy had been able to – became something of an icon for McKenzie. With hints of Socialist Realist parody underscoring its political tension, the present work is a glowing evocation of feminine power.