I interviewed Ronnie Close last year and decided to follow up on the development of his ongoing research project on the Ultras in Cairo. He has completed a video More Out of Curiosity which will be screened at QUAD Derby this summer.
Interview 20 April 2014
AM: How has the role of the Ultras developed in light of recent political events in Egypt?
RC: If you refer to the coup last year and on-going military rule here well, I would suggest the Ultras are in opposition to this move. However like any opposition group there is little room for manoeuvre at the moment. The football league still does not allow fans into stadia. And there is a new Al-Alhy club president who also declared he was a presidential candidate against General Sisi in the forthcoming elections. As there is just one other candidate, he is basically supporting the new president in waiting. The Ultras are caught in this corrupt system as the hopes of 2011 fade out. However although Sisi will win and further oppress opposition, the question remains what will happen beyond that phase. I would suggest the Ultras are quite sensibly waiting, and its important to remember what happens to dissidents in this country.
AM: Could you tell me about your forthcoming research in Brazil?
RC: Given the protests that emerged last summer in the opposition to government spending in Brazil it seems like an important stage to examine the relationship between street movements and globalised football culture. Although culturally very different and the FIFA World Cup is a corporate entity of immense power, however in essence it is related as its struggle between horizontal, self-organising movements and vertical hierarchy politics. This is what attracted me to the Ultras in Cairo and there is transference and manifestation in many places however it is interesting when it runs through the popular current of football.
I have a one month residency in a favela in Rio with an organisation called Barraco55. I am planning to look at the spectacle of the World Cup and work with local fans there. Brazil has not only a rich tradition of football but also political fan groups. And of course there is the football and I never been to a World Cup.
AM: How do you feel about showing your work in the UK context as part of The Pride and The Passion at Quad Derby? Here in the UK the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster has just been commemorated.
RC: The exhibition curator Peter Bonnell has envisaged a show to explore the participation of fans in the creation of football culture. I think my film provides an interesting iteration of this idea and it is complimented by the group show context. I think football culture despite the commodified nature of the contemporary game still provides a social space and fan-based cultures often provide critical engagement with society. Often when momentous events happen this becomes more apparent, like Hillsborough. The spectacle of football is increasingly mediated but within that there is a space to rethink and reconsider.
I am also doing two other screenings and talks, one in the Arnolfini Bristol and also in the National Football Museum Manchester. I will also share these events with one of the founders of the Cairo Ultras, Mohamed Badawy and we are looking forward to engaging with UK audiences, in very different contexts. I would hope between us we will provide an experience and insight on this particular football culture and also the wider political implications.
I just came across this quotation in a book I am reviewing on Palestinian art that relates to what I was trying to communicate about perceptions of football culture and what does, or not, take place or perhaps even just the capacity for it to occur:
A particular activity is visible and another is not, that this speech is understood as discourse and another as noise.
[Rancière, Disagreement Politics and Philosophy (1999)]
FILM PROJECT: MORE OUT OF CURIOSITY
Tear gas, tanks, camels, horses, tent cities, marches, birdshot, live ammunition, Ultras, great music, torture, rape, disappointments, foreign spies, spears, knives, Facebook campaigns, undercover thugs, military detentions, men with scimitars, show trials, virginity tests, elections, referendums, annulments, arson, never forget 74, police brutality, negotiations, committees, strikes, street battles, foreign bailouts, extreme theatre, revolutionary graffiti, television drama, Leninist study circles, Islamist sit-ins, traffic jams, soap operas, chaos or retribution, takeovers, coups, not coups, military tanks, bulldozers, guns, bombs, blood on pavements, horror and recoil, denial, desperation, propaganda, Mubarak, Morsi, curfew city, state terror, beach holidays, checkpoints, snow, more bombs, more propaganda, anniversary dolls, stalls, power cuts, plastic bags, payback time, more bombs, dead students, landscape gardens, cocktails, car crash, Putin posters, Sisi ID cards, donkeys, conspiracy, beehive, trendy haircuts, white welly boots, no graffiti, bugs, no electricity, torches, Tahrir Sq, trash heaps, dead cat, dusty, car horn, tattoo face, flowers, sugarcane, political showtrials.
FILM: More Out of Curiosity
24:50 minutes, two-screen installation,16:9 HD Digital Video, 2014.
One of the key players in the political debate in Egypt are The Ultras, a movement of fanatical football supporters. Although affiliated to different teams in the domestic league they often joined forces in street protests to remove Hosni Mubarak in 2011. More Out of Curiosity is a film work using documentary narratives and approaches to look at resistance in a social movement of politicized football fans. This film is constructed from video footage drawn from a number of sources, including the fans, the Al-Ahly Ultras. It is bookended by the Port Said incident, where 74 fans were killed, and the court verdict a year later. The work is divided into seven scenes which define and structure the video imagery. The film resists the use of voiceover to decipher the video material and operates on an instinctive, visceral level driven by a charged soundtrack of football chants and street sounds.
The film project has been commissioned by QUAD Arts Derby and made with the support of the Irish Film Board.
QUAD Arts Derby, The Pride and the Passion: Contemporary Art, Football & The Derby County Collection. 6 June to 7 September 2014
Ronnie Close is an artist currently based in Cairo, Egypt. His work explores social issues and narrative through the medium of film and photography. He has shown photography and video work in film festivals and exhibitions, some of these include: Protest Camp, ZuHause, Gmur Gallery, Berlin (2013), Ultras07, Brighton Photo Biennial, UK (2012), Night Time Room, The Kassel Documentary Film & Video Festival (2011), Night Time Room, Group Exhibition, ArtSway Gallery, UK (2010), Night Time Room, Solo Exhibition, Picture This Gallery, Bristol, UK (2010). Film awards include, Development Award, Irish Film Board (2012), Digital Shorts Prize, UK Film Council (2008).
He is an Assistant Professor of Photography in the Department of Journalism and Media Communication at the American University in Cairo. In 2010 he was awarded a practice-based PhD in Photographic Research from the University of Wales Newport, UK.