“Is it supposed to be art?” a middle-aged man asks his wife. “Or is it just a ball?” The wife shrugs. They stand on the second floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, one of the city’s architectural beauties, yet their eyes fix solely on one damn enormous ball, its glorious shade of candy-apple red permeating from across the room. As if they were zombies, they move quietly and steadily towards the beast and begin to poke and prod, as others who have chosen to ignore the peculiar giant ball in the room roam past without batting an eye.
The RedBall project rolled into Chicago over the month of September, a fifteen-foot, 250-pound inflatable vinyl ball created by New York artist Kurt Perschke, in part to observe how the nearby population reacts to it. The Cultural Center served as the final stop to an itinerary that included Wicker Park, the Chess Pavilion and Federal Plaza; here, the artists have managed to cram the ball into the space in between the staircase and the window, meaning if those entering from the south entrance immediately look up, they are greeted by the sight of the ball, which for whatever reason feels like you’re looking up at a giant red ass. If the ball were any smaller, it could easily drop to the ground floor and forcefully bounce off the top of someone’s unsuspecting head.
While there is certainly some aesthetic value to simply dropping a giant red dot in the middle of unsuspecting landscapes, the RedBall project rules because the thing is so damn easy to whack. Participants have been known to throw their entire body into the ball’s center, only to be propelled backwards in ecstasy. Here, jumping onto it looks a little dangerous, but other activities arise. Hordes of tourists want pictures in front of the behemoth, most acting as if they’re lifting the ball on pure adrenaline; one acts like an imaginary rolling projectile is about to trample them, Indiana Jones-style. One man walks briskly up the stairs and nonchalantly gives the ball a whack. “Thud,” the ball responds. The man stops, then hits again. “Thud. Thud. Thud.” It appears to be relieving the man of some pent-up aggression—to him, the RedBall is one of those red stress balls you’re supposed to squeeze, except fifty times bigger to take on country-leading Chicago-sized stress.
Later on, a young couple approaches the ball and each take on different personas: the girl pets the ball, as if it was a cute little 250-pound puppy, while the guy plays the ball like a drum, his head bobbing to and fro to the song in his mind (judging by his drumming style, something by Metallica). Is it art? Maybe, maybe not, but if nothing else, it’s a stress ball, a killer drum kit and a fifteen-foot target for our flailing bodies. (Andy Seifert)