Wednesday Lupypciw’s, The Ladies’ 500-Metre Challenge involves two looms threaded together, the stage for a competitive weaving event. Two teams, Pink and Purple, dressed in togas and ribbon, are pitted against each other over the course of three hours to determine who the better weavers are. A referee, with the help of a dutiful assistant, carefully moderates proceedings, distributes penalties, and ensures proper sports-womanship.
I get there 15 minutes into the performance – a significant amount of weaving has already taken place. Bleachers are set up to divide each team’s supporters (I sit with team Purple – they’re closest to the entrance). Teams call each other names for a little while (“stinky pinky” and “purple nurple” come up once or twice) and the audience joins in on the taunting. It’s a three-hour event, so the enthusiasm for trash talk ebbs and flows. The seriousness of the competitors, however, is steady – even when exchanging verbal jibes both teams continue to weave. I want to have a closer look at the weaving, looms are magical, foreign machines, but I’m not sure how to close to the playing field I’m allowed to go. After half an hour, I leave to check out the other performances in the Craft Off Series.
Back for the final stages of the competition, free-style weaving; the looms are stretched several metres apart; both teams continue to work meticulously. Team Pink is penalized for moving their loom back without permission – they’re instructed to look guilty and crestfallen for 90 seconds. I get distracted for a few seconds, and when I look back a member of team Purple is getting spanked by the referee’s assistant. After furious last minutes of weaving, the referee dons the spirit of impartial justice (a blindfold) and, surprisingly (Pink’s weave is, in my non-expert opinion, better looking), crowns team Purple winners. A two-step podium is brought and celebrations ensue. One of the contenders reveals to me later on that, despite knowing that the “competition” was not “competitive,” per se, it took her a few moments after the winner was announced to cool down and be friendly with her friends on the opposing team. I went up to inspect the weaving, afterwards, and heard other audience members seriously discussing, and questioning, the final outcome.
Lupypciw’s work sustains a palpable playfulness and irreverence (an irreverence aided by the chosen venue, the Glenbow Museum). The Ladies’ 500-Metre Challenge adopts sporting norms with seriousness and blends them carefully with “lady-ness.” Frivolous costumes, ambiguous rules, “unbiased” judgement, controversial outcomes, even rowdy audiences with loosely formed allegiances, were all incorporated into the event. The referee, played by Lupypciw, delivered all instructions and penalties with the certainty and assurance required of authority figures – though humorous, neither “lady-stretch” times nor 90 second penalties for using the word, “taint,” felt out of place – absurdity goes down easier with a good dose of authority.