row&row: Sayonara, Olympics

Speed Skating

On the third day of the competition, more than 40,000 spectators gathered in the Makomanai Ice Arena in Sapporo. The oval-shaped track surrounded an Olympic torch built from plastic snowflake blocks. The athletes were getting ready. When the gun sounded, the red beauty that charged to the front was Ms. Beach Rose, the kind of wild rose that grows near the beaches of Hokkaido. She was matched by an athlete in a beautifully designed yellow outfit…

Ah, it was Black-Eyed Susan, a nationally wanted criminal who was recently dubbed an “introduced invasive species.”

Unfortunately, the two were very quickly overtaken by the Lavender from Furano, representing summer romance, and the May Lily that looks like a Hokkaido snowflake, representing winter romance. The Rebun Lady’s Slipper Orchid, which comes from Japan’s northernmost island, had fallen to the back. Oh no, it would be more accurate to say that it was a pale cream-colored orchid on the verge of extinction from Rebun Island, the northernmost island of Japan apart from the Northern Territories. Doesn’t its slightly puffed shape look like a ball of ice cream rolling around? More than halfway through the race, something strange happened. Everyone started moving slower, as if they had all agreed to try to see who could move the slowest. “They’re so slow! So slow!” “Wow! Five meters slower!” The announcer had to change his tone of voice to explain this slowness…

100-Meter Freestyle

We don’t know why the Lady’s Slipper Orchid withdrew from the afternoon’s swimming competition, but suddenly the Beach Rose, the Black-Eyed Susan, the Lavender, and the May Lily had one less opponent. We don’t know what they thought about that. The race started, and we watched with bated breath, wondering who would end up with another gold medal. Right as everyone completed the first 50 meters and prepared to turn, the lane lines broke and the lanes themselves disappeared. Confused, the four athletes floated in the water… Look! They’re coming together! They’re dancing in the water! The screen that we were looking at shrank and shrank, becoming a small piece of glass in a kaleidoscope.

Figure Skating (Pairs)

As the music played, the Beach Rose and the Black-Eyed Susan each spun onto the ice, the skates on their feet leaving graceful marks on its surface. The crowds cheered wildly after the Black-Eyed Susan completed a highly difficult double axel. Of course, the Beach Rose, not to be outdone, also performed beautifully. The music changed to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” and the two seemed to break out of their competitive state, gently reaching out to one another. The applause began. We may as well let slip that our Beach Rose and Black-Eyed Susan agreed to meet for vegetable hotpot after the competition.


“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, goodbye!” Avery Brundage, the fifth president of the International Olympic Committee, said one evening in 1972. “Sayonara! Sayonara!”

Related Projects

Let’s Eat All Nations, Goodbye, Olympics, and Plastic Holy Fire are row&row’s responses in three video works to a holiday-themed commission for an exhibition about the 151-year history of Hokkaido. The first work responds to the Hokkaido Grand Fair in 1968, hosted by Japan’s “internal colony,” and the latter two respond to the Sapporo Winter Olympics in 1972. There are two members of row&row; one has been incarnated as the Beach Rose, an important plant local to Hokkaido, and the other turned into the Black-Eyed Susan, an introduced plant and a wanted criminal that is to be eliminated on sight. In a match between the two members, each brings their own identity and perspective. They have tried to envision and practice ways of engaging with other species, and they invite viewers to consider what events like the Olympics really are: How is sport a game and a competition? Is a life without competition possible? How can we come together in competition? A species you consider introduced, he may consider indigenous. This Beach Rose + Black-Eyed Susan Olympic group defines themselves as “indigenous and introduced, of mixed heritage.”

Translated from the Chinese by Bridget Noetzel.

row&row (Boat ZHANG and Kojiro KOBAYASHI): A Chinese and a Japanese artist duo, founded in 2018 in Tsushima Island, Japan, currently work in Tokyo (and virtual Shanghai). The members are always coordinating their differences in language, culture, emotion, age, and gender (etc.) while responding, fighting, and playing with various situations encountered in daily life and in the world. They often use performance, video, installation as the form.

Bridget Noetzel is a translator, editor, and art consultant based in Hong Kong. She received a BA in both Chinese Language and the History of Art from Yale University. Since 2009, she has worked with galleries and artists in Beijing and Hong Kong, and she has translated and edited for major publications, institutions, and auction houses. In 2017, she co-founded the Asia Photography Project. She was the translator for Yi Ying’s history of modern Chinese art, entitled Art and Artists in China 1949-Present (Cambridge University Press, 2018).


平行奥运 Olympic Reveries

In tandem with the Tokyo Olympics, Heichi Magazine is hosting a parallel assembly of artist essays. Olympic Reveries emphasizes the cultural spaces opened up by sports and the illusion of spatiotemporal unity created by live broadcasts. We invited artists to extend the ideas of athleticism and national culture into their practices and speculate on real or imagined games that present values different from those of mainstream sporting events.

row&row,video still from Goodbye, Olympic, 2020

row&row,video still from Goodbye, Olympic, 2020

row&row,video still from Goodbye, Olympic, 2020

row&row,video still from Let’s Eat All Nations, 2020

row&row,video still from Let’s Eat All Nations, 2020

Published: 2021.08.08