How the humble sweatpants became “critical wearables”

While in Brussels last month, i went to BOZAR to see Somewhere In Between, an exhibition that “provides a unique window on today’s artistic hotbeds of Europe.” I found the show to be surprisingly good. There were moments when i despaired that i’d never truly understand contemporary art. And moments when i got happy, excited and genuinely amazed. I was particularly impressed with a row of sweatpants neatly aligned on one of the walls of the exhibition space.

Life Sport, Sweatpants at BOZAR. Installation view

LIFE SPORT, with Puppies Puppies. Photo: Life Sport

The garments are by LIFE SPORT, an anonymous art collective that sells (mostly) grey sweatpants at a reasonable price to anyone in need of a leisure item. The artists then invest the money earned in exhibitions they organize with other artists.

The work of the art collective is fueled by the city where they are based: Athens. The members of LIFE SPORT noticed that in the Greek capital, sweatpants act as a great equalizer. No matter their social class, gender or age, people wear sweatpants in Athens. But there’s also a political side to grey sweatpants. To some, they evoke nothing but unemployment and disorder.

LIFE SPORT, Sweatpants Production. Image Life Sport

The model LIFE SPORT chose for its sweatpants is not a random one, it is based on a pair of Nikes from the 90s, a time when the American corporation still produced garments in Greece (before they moved to Asia where labour costs are much lower.) A pair costs 35 euros. You can buy them online or in LIFE SPORT hybrid space in Athens, it is both an art gallery and a sweatpants shop. As the artists explained in an interview with Dis Magazine:

“We are utilizing the art system that we are part of to sell our product and we use their formats to advertise our brand. Dealing with sweatpants opposed to artworks allows for a less abstract relation. The prices are based on what we get charged by our producers in Athens, the material plus labour cost. Sweatpants are so easy, people understand them without needing to engage further with LIFE SPORT or the ideas we are invested in. It feels good to be part of a more inclusive market.”

I think LIFE SPORT is onto something. Something brilliant. First of all because LIFE SPORT can be seen as an exercise in exploring the role that art can play in a local social context. By locating the production in Athens, LIFE SPORT invests in the local economy while addressing the global forces that have so deeply impacted it.

The other obvious reason why i’m so enthusiastic about LIFE SPORT is that the model allows them to bypass traditional forms of art funding. They remain part of the art world but do not need to rely on traditional (and shrinking) public arts funding or on the dictates of the commercial gallery model.

Stefanos Mandrake, Black on black, 2016. Installation view

LIFE SPORT, with CALM BALM. Photo: Life Sport

LIFE SPORT, with Bonnie. Photo: Life Sport

LIFE SPORT, with Micha. Photo: Life Sport

Somewhere in Between. Contemporary Art Scene in Europe remains open at BOZAR in Brussels until 19 August 2018.