Grappling Mandala

2013 — Wrestling is a testosterone and adrenaline charged sport; a controlled brawl that pits two equally sized participants in a struggle for dominance. Yet the experience is wrought with contradictory characteristics. It is also a very intimate sport. The two wrestlers are intertwined, flesh on flesh for much of the match. Taking it further wrestling demands a body consciousness unlike other sports. Habitual weight loss and an attention to hygiene are two staples of the experience. Even the way the wrestler looks in a singlet can be a test of a young man’s psyche. The extreme physical demands coupled with these more subtle gender-bending qualities easily explain why wrestling has become such a niche sport in high schools and colleges across the nation, with only the most avid participating. For those that persevere it takes unbelievable amount of athleticism and dedication. It also demands mental toughness and discipline. Calming one’s nerves and overcoming fear are imperative. A good bit of the rhetoric that surrounds the sport focuses on this psychological aspect. There seems to be far more silly slogans and dime store psychological quotes on wrestlers t-shirts than any other sport. Even if a wrestler’s performance fails, his t-shirt still boasts of his unmatched toughness.

 

This strange sport with all its ambiguous characteristics and blustery machismo seemed like a perfect vehicle for my work. Yet this body of work seemed illusive to me and I am not certain it is complete. Being the father of two high school wrestlers, who was too emotionally wrapped up in the sport, this body of work was developed in a quasi-sate of PTSD (the development of this work coincided with my older son's senior year). Having had time to reflect on the work and my relationship to the sport, I believe the series most poignantly explores an aspect of performance anxiety that we all face to one degree or another in our lives, though is ubiquitous in wrestling.

 

The most illustrative of the work generally highlights the losing participant. One depicts the losing wrestler left alone on the mat, suffering defeat surrounded by cheerleaders. The mandala inspired works take moments of extreme confrontation and turn the action in on itself, creating work that is neither illuminating nor meditative. Two vinyl sculptures have the scale and presence of actual wrestling dummies, which are often used in practice. These anthropomorphized versions create both a physical and psychological opponent.

 

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© Joseph Peragine