On Saturday, September 24, 2011, at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Washington, DC, artists Kathryn Cornelius and Jeffry Cudlin fought in their own personal Battle of the Sexes, competing head-to-head in a two-person sprint triathlon during the (e)merge art fair.
For this performance, Cornelius and Cudlin took on three very real tests of physical and mental stamina: They swam 750m in the hotel pool, pedaled 20k on stationary bikes, and ran 5k on treadmills. In the weeks leading up to the showdown, the two artists kept separate twitter training logs--and exchanged regular barrages of trash talk.
ABOUT THE PLAYERS
photo by Max Cook
Nearly a foot in height and 50 pounds in weight separates the two artist-athletes.
Cornelius is, of course, a woman; stands 5' 6 3/4" tall; and weighs somewhere between 118 and 121 lbs--depending on whether or not she's had her daily constitutional.
Cudlin, meanwhile, is male (usually); stands 6' 4 1/2" tall; and weighs between 171 and 180--depending on his cupcake intake.
The two also sit on opposite ends of the food chain: For the past 14 years, Cudlin has eaten a strict vegan diet, eschewing meat, dairy, eggs, and all other animal products in favor of grains, legumes, and vegetables. Cornelius, meanwhile, eats a strict Paleo diet, avoiding grains, legumes, and dairy in favor of meat, nuts, seeds, some fruit and little sugar.
During the competition, a second male-female pair also jostled and japed: Maura Judkis and Jonathan Fischer offered color commentary and competing insults.
Judkis, Producer for the Style Section of the Washington Post, knows a thing or two about responding to hard-charging sport spectacle: In a previous life, she was captain of her high school cheerleading squad. Fischer, Arts Editor for the Washington City Paper, cut his teeth on the Brandeis University squash courts. Though he claims he’ll only watch a game on TV if sriracha buffalo chicken dip (actually a thing) is present, don’t be fooled: Arts editing is a blood sport.
Finally, MC Philippa Hughes (Pink Line Project) donned a whistle and a black-and-white striped shirt to officiate the face-off. Hughes, a DC Arts Commissioner and founder of the Pink Line Project, was the only girl on her 8th grade soccer team—her school didn’t have a girls team, so she had to play with the boys. As a result, Hughes developed a highly competitive killer instinct…and firsthand knowledge of the forces unleashed in any Battle of the Sexes.
Cudlin took an early lead in the 750m swim, but Cornelius went on to seriously outpace him during the second half of the 20k bike. Though Cudlin began to regain some ground during the 5k run, it was too little, too late: The day belonged to Cornelius. She climbed the podium to accept the gold medal, leaving the silver for Cudlin.
ABOUT THE COMPETITION
The "Triathlon of the Muses" inserts the conventions of popular sporting spectacle into the structure of the art fair—replacing one form of competition, costume-wearing, and role-playing with another. In this way the piece provides a more clearly legible analog for transactions both prior to and within the fair.
The performance can also be read as a symbolic battle between artists of opposing genders for the same limited resources of audience, patronage, and cultural capital.
Finally, the piece can simply be viewed as a repudiation of the pervasive stereotype of artists as weak, non-athletic sensitives who are notoriously bad at sports.
The title of the piece is a nod to Pierre de Coubertin's "Pentathlon of the Muses," a series of art competitions typically held at the Olympic games during the first half of the 20th century. In the Pentathlon, the sport-inspired work of amateur artists would be judged by arts professionals and other dignitaries. Gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded.