Petra Cortright has many interests: Martha Stewart Living, the beach, and, perhaps most famously, soccer. The 31-year-old artist was actually on track to become a soccer player, training in the US Olympic Development Program before dropping out to attend art school. Art, she says, laughing, was the “easier” option. Cortright no longer plays soccer competitively; instead, she tweets about it. Sometimes up to hundreds of times a day. The tweets range from commentary to immediate reacts: “sdfas;dfjksa;klfjsa;lkfjsafasfdsafasd”; “VARDY COME ON YOU BATSHIT FUCKER GIVE THEM HELL”; “LIFE IS PAIN.”
If these tweets seem spam-y, it’s worth pointing out that Cortright’s art has always been interested in spam. Cortright came up with a generation of “post-internet artists,” a contested label which now roughly connotes people making work after the widespread adoption of the internet. In VVEBCAM (2007), she stares into her webcam indifferently as animated cats, lightening bolts, and pepperoni pizza slices flash across the screen. Her love of visual internet detritus has continued into her physical work: online images, often sourced from Pinterest, are deconstructed and reassembled on Photoshop before getting printed out. The titles are, of course, spam-y; a 2006 work was titled _-Altitude'o4duckbilled dinosaurus lifting metal clad blimp-_. Whether you think her oeuvre reflects the shallowness of networked communication; the creation of a blank canvas (onto which users can project what they will); or pretty, fun decorative objects amidst a visually sparse post-conceptual landscape, Cortright’s work is certainly worth engaging with.
Artspace's Charlie Markbreiter spoke with Cortright about soccer and her artwork right after the England-Croatia game.
I’m curious about your soccer tweeting style. I really enjoy it. It feels like there’s so much pressure to produce content, which is measured, sparse, and contextualized, whereas this is just...shitpost-y.
My style is so shitpost-y. It's just a lot of garbage. I first got a Twitter in 2007, so that was a year after the 2006 World Cup. I've tweeted three World Cups, and I would do it because I would usually be watching by myself, and then I would want to talk about the games with other people, and Twitter is a good way to do that. But it's weirdly bigger on Twitter now. A lot of people talk about the games online now, as opposed to two World Cups ago, where I felt like I was literally yelling into a void, and just terrorizing the shit out of peoples' timelines with this gibberish. Before you could fave or retweet something, I felt like I was pushing things onto people, which was kind of funny.
At first, I was just doing it for World Cups, but now I kind of do it all year round. If I catch a game, and I'm in the mood to really yell about it online, people will unfortunately have to deal with a weird Premier League that they probably don't care about that I'm going to be posting 20 tweets a minute about. I actually wish it could be more shitpost-y, but I've even toned it down, just in terms of the swearing or insults.
I feel like Twitter is the last decent-ish social media. Even though now I see a lot of content from people that I don't follow that friends of friends follow, which I don't like. Any social media that goes away from a time-based algorithm, I'm just not a fan of. Like, "content that we think you would like." I don't like that, I don't want to see that, I hate it.
Maybe it's an old-school internet vibe, but you could just understand where people are at a certain time in the world, and what they are up to. I remember it was nice if you would see a picture of someone that they had posted at the beach, and you could be like, oh, they are at the beach, we should go meet up with them. And then that also allows for a real life interaction as well. Whereas now it just feels so scrambled, and then you don't even feel like you are really connecting with people. It feels empty. But the algorithms takes control away from the user. It just takes some of the weirdness away.
What’s your World Cup watching schedule like?
I'm honestly kind of glad for the World Cup to be over, so I can just get back to normal. It's just so emotional, too, and for California, especially during the group stage, when I was waking up at 5am to watch the games, and those would be three or four games in a day. My entire emotional reserve would just be completely depleted by 10am. And then I had to do a whole day after that.
I'm used to doing this, too, because in the fall the Premier League will start up, and the Spanish league, La Liga, and then the German league, Bundesliga. Always, in California, you have to wake up very early if you want to watch the game live, so it just takes a lot out of me year round.
Are any of your artworks specifically related to soccer?
There are some ones on my Facebook that are just videos that I uploaded to Facebook years and years ago where I'm just kind of messing around. There's one from the last World Cup where I'm just juggling a ball in this studio. There's another one where I'm kind of dancing with a ball, probably really fucked up or something. They are webcam videos, but without any effects, which weirdly feels more personal.
I've been thinking a lot about making soccer paintings. I haven't done it yet. I've been thinking about it for years. Something that means a lot to me I have to weirdly think about it a lot more, which is not always fun. I kind of hate when things mean stuff. I love when I'm just in a mood to do things and not really think about them.
There’s the risk that if you analyze it too deeply, it ends up being less than you thought it was.
That's exactly the thing. I just don't want to fuck it up. But because soccer was such a big part of my life for so long, I really have no choice but to think about it. There are different ways to go about it. I'm really obsessed with the gear. I've always really liked the ritual of having the socks and the shoes. Paintings of some of the clothing is also a really good idea. I just have such good memories from when I was little of getting a new tracksuit. That's all I would wear, as a little kid.
Do you ever wish that you’d done soccer instead of art?
I was on track to do soccer. I had full rides to go to colleges. But I would get so nervous before games, and the competition freaks me out. I have a gentle personality. I like to joke around, but I would never go into a tackle really hard or do anything dirty. With soccer, if there is something that you are bad at, or not as strong at, you have to work really, really hard. I feel like I chose the easy way out with art, even though art is really hard. If there is something that I am not good at with art, I just instinctively know how to improve. Something physical, like soccer, is so tedious. The hours you have to put in, the little touches and everything. I was also a lazy player. I got pretty far on just natural ability, and then when it came to putting in the work and the mental strength, I just don't think I had or have what it takes.
It's really brutal. I've always looked at being an athlete as tragic. You just train so hard, you train your whole life, for really just a few moments, if you think about it. And then if you don't even get success in those moments, it's just rough. And then you are done when you are 30. If you have the most amazing athletes, they are very lucky to go into their early 40s, and that's usually just a few people. It's kind of across the board for most sports. Your 20s, your 30s, that's it. You have a whole lot of life to live after that. I was always quite scared. I could sense, even when I was younger, that if I wanted to really do it, your whole entire personality becomes about one thing, and I don't think I was ever willing to sacrifice other interests. I could sense that was what it was going to be.
Do you have any predictions for the finals and the third place match?
I'm not very good at predictions, but I think Belgium will win third place. They are a better team than England, they have better players. We'll see. I would say maybe 2-0, 2-1. All those players really know each other, so I think it'll be interesting.
I think France is going to win. It might be 1-0, though. Croatia is a good midfield. It'll benefit Croatia if they can go into overtime again, because apparently they have unlimited energy resources, somehow. And if it goes to PKs, I actually think that then Croatia might win.
It seems always surprising to people when artists have interests that are outside of art.
Seeing a lot of art doesn't necessarily make me want to make more art or work. Doing other things that are not related actually makes me want to make work more. So I try to do those things.