In the throes of the football hysteria which swept Britain during the 2002 World Cup one man became a synecdochic icon, a living trope, standing in for England team, Football, and finally,,Englishness,, itself. Identity is closely connected to race in the English psyche, and despite the reality of the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan and largely integrated society it was the image of blond, blue-eye, white Anglo-Saxon male that so enraptured a whole population. Beckham became the embodiment of the hopes and aspiration of a nation, encapsulating notions of the national hero. The pedestrian skill of football was transformed, through the mythologizing language of the media, into the etiquette of knightly battle and chivalrous decorum of a medieval jousting match. Beckham would save the day for England and conquer the foreign foe –in this case Argentina, whom Britain had already vanquished in far more real and bloody war.
In Worship Loreta Bilinskaite has created an iconic image of the football star which counterpoints the usual concomitants of the media image- reproducibility, speed, low quality ubiquity- by rendering the figure of Beckham in the ancient technique of tapestry, or more correctly embroidery, the same method that was used to create the Bayeux Tapestry. By choosing this technique Bilinskaite has slowed our frenzied consumption of information and image to a medieval pace, allowing time for contemplation to develop around ideas of nationhood, heroism, media- manipulation and national identity. Fabricated in an artist native Lithuania, with the help of her extended family, the forty –nine square foot image encapsulates the simple, pre -technological methods of country living, a craft based practice which draws the community together in a communal act of creation. In a village where television is rarity this act of fabrication takes center stage as creation, entertainment and transmission of knowledge.
Beckham is posed as a Christ-like figure, in an echo of the crucifixion. This direct allusion to this messianic status is reinforced by the use of gold and red thread which alludes to the religious imagery of the high Catholic church, by equating Beckham with Christ Bilinskaite has made explicit the deification of the football star by the media, his exploitation as the embodiment of Englishness; football is used as decoy in order to distract the population from the reality of unemployment, poverty, crime, corruption and recessional economy. If, Football is the opium of the people, as Marx might have said, then Beckham is high priest of that hypnotic religion, and in Worship Bilinskaite has given us a lasting testament its empty god.
News Editor & London Correspondent