Adel Abdessemed
de tête

‘Coup de tête’, 2012
540 × 348 × 218 cm

A sudden, unthinkable, unprecedented act: the head butt (coup de tête) given by Zinedine Zidane during football’s World Cup in 2006 was quickly seen around the world, becoming iconic. Abdessemed’s monumental sculpture shows the moment when the French player begins to pull his head back as his Italian opponent gives a shout and falls backward. The two men faced off and clashed like ancient wrestlers—fond enemies in the heat of final contact.

Abdessemed has always acknowledged his fascination with acts that induce loss. Here he has turned it into a paradoxical monument, exalting once again the moment of “losing it”: the abandonment of the rules of the game, Zidane’s loss of self-control, Materazzi’s loss of balance as he falls. In a game where every movement of the body is governed by rules, the sudden appearance of a prohibited move, executed with determinationindeed, with a certain elegance—leaves the viewer speechless. In today’s comfortably insured societies, where every risk is hedged, the appearance of a totally unexpected event has become rare, and the very possibility of such an experience has been channeled, formatted, anesthetized. Coup de tête represents monumental opposition to that anesthesia. The social and political issues it raises are important, yet secondary with respect to the unprecedented physicality of these huge dark wrestlers.

By glorifying a hero’s malicious act, Abdessemed liberates himself in turn from the weight of representation people seek to impose on him, even as he claims for himself a provocative rule-breaker’s wildness, an art of surprise and exertion, of sudden intuition and swiftly executed gestures that hit the beholder like a head butt. The moment of Materazzi’s fall, moreover, can be seen as a startling switch: as in every tragedy, the protagonist is felled by an unpredictable stroke of fate, but here the roles are reversed—it was Zidane who was falling, losing his title of hero.

Giovanni Careri