What does a white tracksuit have to do with football hooliganism?
It’s a question that confronts you in Steps and Marches, an exhibition by Polish artist Marcin Dudek currently on show at London’s Edel Assanti Gallery.
The piece ‘Well Washed’ features a white-painted tracksuit, and once you know the story behind it, its connection to violence becomes clear.
The tracksuit used to belong to Dudek’s brother, who was wearing it on the day he got stabbed in the leg during a confrontation between Polish hooligans and the police.
His work here draws on his experience of conflict and crowd control as a teenage fan of KS Cracovia.
There are plenty of books and movies about football hooligans out there, many of them lurid and sensationalist.
Dudek’s art, on the other hand, is more reflective but not lacking in resonance or impact.
In the first room, there are three mini-photos of hooligans fighting with the police.
According to the gallery, the ‘intimate scale of these images signify the artist’s complex relationship with a time in his own past in which he was lost in a violent crowd, narrowly escaping disaster’.
Because the images are so small, you have to stand really close to see them, creating a sense of intimacy at odds with the subject matter.
On the way to the second room, you have to go through a sculpture called ‘Recovery and Control’. It is the kind of turnstile you normally see at a football stadium.
This gate forces people to go in one by one. It creates the feeling that you are entering something more secret or special.
Normally when you go through those gates, there is an exciting game or a concert waiting for you.
Emerging on the other side, the walls are painted a vivid shade of orange. This aspect really grabs your attention.
Why orange? Because during the violent outbreaks at the football matches of Dudek’s youth, supporters wore their black bomber jackets inside out.
The orange was a sign to let everybody know there was danger and you had to be ready to defend yourself.
This exhibition, which is running alongside a related ‘chapter’ in Brussels, seeks to explore the dynamics of crowd behaviour ‘from order to chaos’. The fact that Dudek’s work is based on real incidents in his life makes it all the more powerful.