40.5 x 60.5 x 4.5cm
Acrylic box frame. Original Tour de France sign. Mixed media, acrylic and spray paint.
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Contrôle Anti-Dopage reinterprets the symbolism within Hieronymus Bosch's renaissance masterpiece 'The Garden of Earthly Delights'. Painted in 1505, this strikingly 'modern' triptych is said to suggest a warning on the dangers of giving in to life's temptations.
Assuming this proposition, Contrôle Anti-Dopage adopts a facsimile of some of the core symbols used by Bosch. The Garden becomes the rich pastural landscape through which the Tour travels; the Earthly Delights the highs and lows associated with winning the race through forbidden means.
Bosch's three-panelled artwork travels left to right - from the joy of the Garden of Eden, passing ultimately into the torment of Hell; light into darkness. Similarly, Contrôle Anti-Dopage takes the emotions of a Tour contender's (Roger Rivière) girlfriend as she optimistically celebrates his majesty, to finding herself experiencing the anguish of disaster, sat at her lover's hospital bedside, his back broken from a fall, the result of closet opioid analgesic abuse. She gazes back into the composition, diametrically opposing the optimism experienced that very same morning.
Like a bad acid trip, Contrôle Anti-Dopage is littered with the psychedelia of other worldliness. As with The Garden of Earthly Delights, birds mingle among the humans (including Tour sponsor Le Coq Sportif), as malevolent beings. Centrally perched on the head of Tour legend Fausto Coppi, is an owl. Bosch liberally placed this feathered creature throughout his composition, subverting its common notion as a symbol of wisdom, to represent the negative - a creature of the night, all seeing, yet blind; accepting of evil; mocking the foolishness of man. The owl in Contrôle Anti-Dopage stares at the medic man, toting the panacea of doping; a cure for all ills; acknowledging the forbidden fruit of sport and performance enhancing substances.
Since the very first Tour de France in 1903, competitors in this physically, mentally and psychologically demanding sporting event have sought a plethora of means to augment their natural state of being; some in order to challenge for overall victory; others wanting simply to complete the event.
Contrôle Anti-Dopage uses an original piece of Tour signage as its backdrop - the directional prompt for any rider required to visit the post-race doping facility. This particular sign was used in the 2009 Tour de France - significant in its chronology as the comeback Tour of a certain Lance Armstrong. The arrow points to key moments within the Tour's turbulent battle with doping, and the varied means of defying the odds. Yet on face value, the direction points backwards, not forwards.
Littered throughout this dreamlike landscape of confessions and confectionery lie the victims of success, and failure. This wonderland of giant red blood cells and the wallpaper of the everyday are the spectral trails of temptation.
The girlfriend of french rider Roger Rivière is seen reaching out to touch him as he begins Stage 14, on 10 July 1960. Moments later Rivière would plunge into a ravine; the side effects of taking the drug Palfium (Dextromoramide), which masked his ability to brake efficiently. Her anguished hospital-bedside stare follows the sign's requisition.
Fausto Coppi, Il Campionissimo, hides his face. This the Italian cyclist who on a televised interview spoke openly on his use of amphetamines:
Do cyclists take la bomba?
Coppi: Yes, and those who claim otherwise, it's not worth talking to them about cycling.
And you, did you take la bomba?
Coppi: Yes. Whenever it was necessary.
And when was it necessary?
Coppi: Almost all the time!
Another Tour legend noted for his candor with regard to doping was five-time Tour winner Frenchman Jacques Anquetil. His comment "Do they expect us to ride the Tour on Perrier water?" suggests the demands placed on professional road cyclists sanctioned the means by which they competed.
When the scheduled doctor pulled out of the 1952 Tour de France, Pierre Dumas was brought in as a late replacement. He would go on to be the official Tour Doctor from 1952 to 1969, and become a pioneer for drug testing programs in the Olympic Games as well as cycling. In the 1955 Tour, Dumas was called to resuscitate Jean Mallejac, who had deliriously collapsed on the ascent of Mont Ventoux. Twelve years later, on the morning of 13th July 1967, Dumas prophetically declared "If the riders take something today, we'll have a death on our hands". Hours later he would attempt to administer an an oxygen mask to the unconscious British Rider Tom Simpson, who had collapsed on the same slopes as Mallejac. Simpson was pronounced dead at 5:40 p.m. Dumas refused to sign the death certificate.
All artwork and images © James Straffon 2017.