The RedBall Project has seen some interesting places over the past 13 years, bouncing from cities in the United States to a variety of countries across the world, taking in Abu Dhabi, Taipei, Perth, Sydney, Korea, and Barcelona, and now for the first time resting on Irish soil this summer.
The idea of the RedBall Project came to Kurt Perschke while devising an idea for an art commission in St Louis in 2001. In his quest to find a way to “play” with the public spaces and architecture of the city, he realised that he needed a symbol that people could really engage with. “The project first started as an opportunity to work with public space, it really came from my impulse to play with architecture. I was working through a lot of ideas and eventually I thought ‘I just want to shove a ball in there’. I drew it and laughed and that was the beginning of it.”
The process behind the RedBall Project is simple; some enthusiastic people, one giant inflatable red ball, a generator and inflation equipment, a willing and imaginative location, and about 45 minutes, give or take. “We install it every morning and it usually will be up for about seven hours a day, each day a new site,” Perschke explains. “Rather than just leaving it in one site for the whole week, it is really about moving through Galway and getting to explore all the nooks and crannies of the place.”
The simplicity of the project on the surface can distract from the beauty of what it is really about. Its aim is to connect the public with the world around them, from the physical cityscape to the culture, history, and imagination that swirls around within it.
The reaction and interaction of the audience on the street to the red ball is the most central part of the project for Perschke, something which he did not set out to do. “I hate to admit it but my impulse at the time as an artist was completely selfish, I was just trying to find a way to play with a city and to investigate it on my own terms,” he said. “What is interesting about the project is that it really comes alive with people, it doesn’t exist without the audience and the interaction on the street.”
With a background as a sculptor and a set designer, Perschke’s feels privileged to have the opportunity to wander around each city, bringing with him a sketchbook, a camera, and a laser metre, and exploring the city and its inner workings as an outsider, admittedly sometimes getting lost in the process.
It is the engagement of the public with the red ball that has become a more rewarding side effect. In each place, the red ball shows how different cultures, senses of humour, and even insecurities can affect how they experience something new. “It does differ from place to place. The project has been in Asia and the reactions there were very enthusiastic and photographic, it [red ball] was more like a pop star. In other cities I find it to be more conversational, and when it was in Australia, there was less talking and more bouncing.”
Perschke laughs as he recalls one particular moment with a Spanish businessman on his way to work who was so fascinated with the piece but was worried about being spotted by others. “Sometimes we really don’t want to give ourselves permission to have a go,” he said thoughtfully. “We were filming and we didn’t realise that he had reached behind his back to touch it so no one would see. For me those are the fascinating little things that the project reveals. Certainly there have been some spectacular sites, and quaint sites, and everything in between, but it is really about the people.”
Galway will make history this summer being the first Irish city to be included in the busy ball’s schedule, and Perschke is excited by how influential the city could be on the experience as a whole. He is also determined to choose his sites carefully, looking for places “in the thick of it” to encourage touch, expression, and intrigue. “Galway is a very picturesque city and is has a lot of variety architecturally. There is a fantastic sense of humour in the Irish so I am looking forward to how that plays out. There will be some sites where people might expect to see it, and also a few places which will be a bit more of a surprise, some little spot that people haven’t been to in a while or never looked at that way before but it is about being there with everyone else squished in the mix.”
During its long journey, the red ball has garnered a large social media presence and a global online following. The project constantly updates those who are distanced from its world tour through its website www.redballproject.com and its Facebook page, detailing the world on all things spherical. “It wasn’t constructed to be internet-ready, it just happens to be,” said Perschke. “It is really for people to engage with it how they want. For some people that might mean having a go, for others it might be taking a photo and putting it on Instagram so people can chat about it. Now the project has a global following there is an audience out there that will follow the project to Galway online as well as in person. I am excited for all of that to mix up.”
As part of the social media arm of the project, Perschke documents its journey through drawing, photos, and video. This work is central to the experience, tapping into the real reason behind it all; people and their unique reactions. For the Galway visit, Perschke has invited filmmaker Danny Cooke, who worked with the project during its tour of the UK for the 2012 London Olympics. The plan for the Irish adventure is to release a short video each day of its progress through the city.
Outside the project Perschke spends his time working with dance and theatre companies in New York designing sets among other artistic pursuits. However, the red ball continues to roll on as the years go by, determined to experience all the world has to offer it.
“I keep my fingers in a lot of pies, but nothing quite as large as RedBall Project; it is the big gorilla,” he says, slightly exasperated by the statement. “When I started it I wanted to do a global piece and it turns out it takes a lot more time to cover the whole world than you think, so I don’t know how long it will run but it will certainly keep me busy for a while.”
The RedBall Project will take place at various locations across Galway city from July 17 to 23 from 10am to 7pm daily as part of the Galway International Arts Festival.