4 – 21 September 2013

Opening Night | Thursday 5 September 6-8pm, 

Tarli Bird

Personal Best investigates the popularity of Fun Run events. The exhibiting sculptural pieces explore the attraction individuals have into uniting with strangers as one to achieve a common goal. A skin-like pallid body of latex individualised running bibs evoke the sense of running community in the gallery space transporting the viewer into the exhausted memories of those runners achieving their moments of glory.

IMAGES | Tarli Bird, Finishing Banner, 2012, latex, safety pins| Images courtesy of the artist. 


The stagnating crowd is closely compressed within the blocked road. It is impossible to move without bumping into the strangers surrounding you, all waiting for the gun to fire. You stand hunched over, shivering, moving your knees to try and keep warm. The celebrity ambassador starting the race keeps talking to the crowd yet no one can hear them. All that you can hear are the complaining strangers swearing to “bloody hurry up and start the race.” When the gun blows the crowd still stands passively waiting to begin moving closer to the start line. The ‘elite’ runners have already started their race for the top three prizes whilst the rest of the participants in the event wait for the crowd to slowly disperse. Minutes pass and you seem to have only moved a few metres closer to the start line. Eventually the crowd thins out and you can see the start line and begin slowly shuffling towards it. Eventually you have the space to spread out and run over the start line of the Fun Run, which has already been won. But who enters Fun Runs with the intention to win the first prize? More than an atomized and individualized challenge, the Fun Run is a communal ritual of shared embodiment, constituted in moments of shared intimacy of a sort which urban life rarely allows.

Most people can run. It is a basic skill, the foundation of many sports. However there is a difference between those that run and those that are runners. The runner is absorbed in the runner’s world training for their next goal, whilst the novice is simply trying to run. It takes time to develop an adequate amount of fitness to begin to feel the relaxing state runners rave about. Once realizing this pleasure it takes further time and dedication to maintain a level of fitness to keep reaping the benefits. Running fitness is an ability that can ware from the lack of use within days of not running. Like religion runners are devoted habitually and obsessively to the activity of running. The pattern of training for events such as Fun Runs involves a daily ritual of training once or twice a day. Training becomes part of one’s life and is not a possibility. Some days require more effort and time, and once a week you are blessed with a ‘rest’ day or in other words an easy day, which still includes a thirty-minute casual run. Training requires the discipline of trying your best and not giving into the allure of the easy life.

The possessed nature of training everyday around life’s commitments is translated through the possessive creation of five thousand handmade stopwatches and latex bibs presented in Personal Best. As a Victorian State representative runner, the process of making followed the similar obsessive ritual as my daily training. Like an absorbed runner training the making process required a sustained discipline in the build up to event/installation day for the exhibition.

Fun Run events, like churches are structured to bring individuals with similar values together. They create short-lived communities of runners uniting as one to share a similar experience. They transform sleepy cities on early Sunday mornings, into thriving communities. Participants travel hours, states and even plan international holidays around Fun Run dates. Part of the allure of participating in Fun Runs is getting to experience the event community that is constructed. It is not necessarily the case that the masses of runners know each other or even associate with each other. It is more important that the runners believe that they possess a shared sense of identity, that they are all runners together. The pile of individual stopwatches and competitor bibs are presented in one united mass. The skin-like pallid body of latex individualised running bibs evoke the sense of running community in the gallery space transporting the viewer into the exhausted memories of those runners achieving their moments of glory.

Likewise the united pile of stopwatches reinforces the monumental effort each individual participant has achieved once crossing the finish line. Each individual crossing the finish line helps create the event experience that has participants leaving wanting another event to train up for. ‘Pile of Results’ was created with an obsessive amount of time around my daily life. However whilst working on these pieces I was unaware of the amount of time spent making. Being a runner is the very similar. When you become a runner, running becomes part of you and your daily routine. It is not associated with the initial motives that made you start running such as to loose weight or to get fit. It becomes part of your daily routine allowing you moments to an apogee whilst at the same time still focusing on the next finish line you are wanting to cross.

– Tarli Bird, 2013