Never have I considered the ground beneath my feet so much as when I’m doing the tennis ball thing.
Every crack, every gap in every paving slab, surface water, angle and camber, material, sudden wind and even the temperature affect the ball’s bounce and, if these aren’t all in an active consideration then the ball will be sorely missed.
The bounce occurs (once) between every two steps (left foot – bounce – right foot) and as a result of this becomes interlinked (subsumed by and one with) the process of my stepping which, in itself includes the qualitative appreciation of any surface on which I step. It may seem like stating the obvious to say that ‘to walk involves an appreciation of the surface on which one walks’ but like so many things in this waking world this is an appreciation so worn in by years of familiar tread that it slips by the wayside of conscious experience; factory response has long since set in and the potentially highly sensorial experience of walking (inclusive of every facet of the pavement) is rendered a non-experience.
We walk on autopilot.
Baby’s first steps; these first few stumbles of bipedality mark the period when one is both vigorously receptive to and truly conscious of the experience of walking. Prior to that (when we are physically closer to it) marks the period where one is most engaged in trying to understand the concept of ‘the ground’: that solid expanse nestled up against your back which doesn’t shake when you bang your heel on it / the soft smell of that familiarly musty carpet complet with fragments of chips, remnants of TV dinners and mum’s fallen hairband lying in the shadow of the sofa / that damp and crumbly texture out of which sprouts those itchy blades of green green grass which are making you giggle as you investigate; sweeping through them with a naked arm. Since that time we haven’t had need to give thought, perceptual energy to that which we broached as infants – why would we? By any account it would be a waste but also, by any account isn’t there something so beautiful about reconnecting with it? Some people have done it with LSD. I like to think I’ve done it with a tennis ball.
By introducing an insurgent; a foreign body into the largely automatic and hence unconscious process of walking the conscious mind is forced to engage with the familiar as if it were not. It is the mild alienation of the humdrum / the mundane so that it becomes no longer humdrum or mundane. The integration of the tennis ball into an experientially dead process brings that process (walking) back to life and also, as aforementioned the qualitative experience of the ground which that process incorporates.
The bouncing of a tennis ball for a week paints that week with a purpose; all those objectiveless / aimless meanders that make up life are imbued with the function of ‘bouncing a tennis ball’ / are imbued with the function of ‘making art’ and from each being just another disposable (and disposed of) experience amidst a lifetime’s worth of disposable (disposed of) experiences, each meander, each walk and each unremarkable working week is rendered an experience (definite) by being made constitutive to a creative exercise.
Through translation into object (documentation (prints /texts)) this exercise and every experience contained within is afforded a permanence and the opportunity to remain long after its processing time has past (like tombstones standing as relics / summations of a life) and gains a definite/ positive character in reality.
When I say ‘objectiveless’ I’m not referring to the activity (to keep with the subject matter of the piece) of going for a walk where the walk is the objective of its own activity. I’m talking about journeys of necessity, walks of importance, journeys with destinations where the walk is just a means to end up at its own summation; journeys from points A to B where both letters carry a significance which massively outweighs the journey between them (the point A and a half). I’m talking about walks where the journeys themselves are nothing but necessary spacers between beginnings and ends. These are the points of dead space in life, fallow territory where the mind wanders, where you text thoughtlessly, read the metro that was left discarded on the seat next to you under the self-imposed delusion that you’re reading the news (but who’re you kidding? You’re just flicking through the pictures and absently skimming the headlines just to make sure that ISIS haven’t moved into West Wickham), where you run over (already impeccable laid) mental plans concerning tomorrow / the future / the past over and over, glance at your watch a million and one times just to make treblely sure time’s not slipped forward by 15 or so and now you’re (inexplicably) running late, pick and aggressively scrape at the chewing gum that’s become lodged in the heel of your shoe, bite your nails, grimmace as you remember where they’ve just been, scan the contents of a well hung billboard thinking ‘I never thought I’d need to shake my salt and pepper away but…now you mention it my hair really isn’t as full bodied as it used to be…’ . The journeys in themselves are aimless, rambles, just filler in the book of life that is already too full of rambling ill-defined sentences.
The tennis ball functions as a full stop. It gives the sentences their point and thus makes each a definite construction that has an application in the constitution of a larger whole.
It is necessary at times to emphasize the point so that you can again appreciate the pointlessness.
Everything is relative ( bounce ).
If you watch close you can make out the shadow of the ball before it hits, for a split second, as it seemingly rushes in to greet its caster (shadows plural if we’re talking streetlights (multiple); venn diagrams that align in a blink into one (when the ball touches base / hits home / connects with the concrete) before rebounding; unfurling dark circles separating out and disappearing again in a blink).
It’s like in that moment of contact the shadow meets its maker, the ball meets its other; the world of process and that of object perceptibly unify.
The tennis ball piece is a largely visual affair; to catch is an example of a physical response to a visual stimulus (ever tried to catch guided by ear alone?; tracking an object through space and time guided by little more than echolocation?). I realized this when my ability to bounce was suspended by my inability to see (my own feet, let alone the ground beneath them). Darkness steals light which takes sight along with it and, without that the bouncing has to stop.
This is an experience only had in rural areas. In London, even on those rare streets which are without lights the effervescent ambient glow of the light pollution is about you all around the clock. No matter how dark it gets the London lifer – one who has never truly gone beyond the city limits – is one who has never truly experienced darkness and (through the relativity of their relationship) has never truly experienced light. Perpetual light might feel like a familiar friend (always there, sheltering you from sightlessness / from the dark) but acts to constrict experience and reinforce the mistrust harboured for its other.
The bouncing of the tennis ball effectively chains to it one’s visual sense. It concentrates the all too familiar world of light into a focused area leaving the ears to pick up the flack. It’s amazing what world blossoms into being once one is deprived of sight:
Navigating Kings X at rush hour with just your ears. The ears place and populate the world because they have to; a cloud of conversation hubbub yields distinct forms; a wheel clatter from behind; ladies with babies / high voices coming from somewhere right centre – move to my left toward the approaching hum of the escalator / tennis ball bounce loses its dull poc in favour of some muted steal percussion – deader at the edge, deeper, more resonant in the centre of the step (resonant is good – less chance of catching a corner and sending your art, your meditation plummeting off into the subterranean distance). You disembark – bounce along the tiles towards the (curiously vacant) northbound Piccadilly line platform where the bounce (though slight in terms of amplitude) echoes cavernously (smirk as you hear the tannoy crackle that “the next train to Cockfosters…”). You continue to bounce; the sound slaps back like baby gunshots, ricochets off the surrounding walls. You feel like a research ship surveying the sea floor; firing down into the netherworld to asses the depth and build up an image of the unknown – get an impression of its space. It’s like echolocation.
Ill fitted floor tiles resound with a different discernible tone, each space has its own rhythm, each architecture its own quantic feel.
I bounce the ball down the platform. I’m drawing nearer and nearer to the edge of the tunnel, nearer that gaping black mouth which seems to be drinking in the light. As I approach the echoes rebounding off the hard tiles seem to stretch, to elongate as if they too are being sucked into that dense and vacuous black from wherein the tracks trail off. I bounce the ball on the edge of the platform noting how the mouth has eaten my slap-back and how instead there is a sustained hang that doesn’t quite subside before the next impact. I wonder what the bats would have made of this?
The prints of wet leaves on lighter toned paving slabs. The autumn’s refuse swept from its laid to resting places by one of those chilly November winds leave shadows; leaf shadows – wet prints that are soon to dry and soon to fade away.
Tarmac has a considerably spongier quality than paving slabs; wet or warm tarmac more so.
A one eyed dog stole and has chewed my spherical measure of reality into an ellipsis. It is now not only the quality of the ground beneath my feet which affects the bounce but the point of the ball which falls into contact with it. The bounce is no longer the predictable uniform rebound of a sphere.
If this were an experiment I’d be upset about this excess of variables throwing the reliability of the result but its ok; it never was. It was art (just about) and it doesn’t matter.
The dog was lovely.
I’m going to miss the role i found myself in: canine pied piper, constantly tailed up and down the street by dogs each with that playful glimmer in their eyes (eye). I’d never had so much in terms of wet tongues and wagging tails in all my life, and finally here I was, with this old girl; one eye, greying muzzle and a slow and cautious pace that never seemed to shift out of first gear. She sat on my foot then stole my tennis ball when I wasn’t looking and toothlessly mawed it till it bounced indeterminately.
Ii’d like to to thank her for making my last walk infinitely more interesting.
In the words of the giant in twin peaks:
“It is happening again” .
i just walked from Speldhurst to Tunbridge Wells bouncing a tennis ball in my right hand for the duration of the walk.
My right hand became stained and painted a faded brown; its cracks and lines so defined by the soiling that
they looked like the earth; baked in a hot sun; cracking clay where the surface splits to reveal black space inside the shrinkage.
The only real difference being that the cracks on my hand were white
i started doing the tennis ball piece again because
( as before )
i needed to ground; anchor a head spinning off into the everywhich way but here.
i got pissed off that, although walking ( as the time of arrival told ) at the same pace i would normally walk i was unable to increase speed. i was unable to stare into the distance and project myself any further along the track from where i was ;
round the bend,
up the hill .
The ball necessitated that i remained in place
it anchored me with the dead weight of its doing and suddenly
i wasn’t to make the bank because the ball had cost me the precious time i was to spend there
although ( in retrospect ) getting to the bank ( specifically today ) had only become an absolute necessity when i was over half way to town
and because i had the ball .
i bounced along the forest floor; mud sucked the ricochet, leaves concealed the rocks and rubble in wait to prey on the pointless activity and spit my charge out into a hedgerow or the stream.
Much of the time i just couldn’t bounce the ball along the forest’s floor as ( no matter how hard i hurled ) the ball just didn’t bounce.
i missed the predictable response of the tarmac laid pavement where
the bounce back was
in the pocket
( and i seem to remember it being between every one ( footfall ) last time i did it which makes me think; how much have my legs ungrown? / at what crazy pace was i bouncing at? / how much did i bullshit when i wrote this up the last time? )
It occurred to me that
from a therapeutic angle
what i’m doing doesn’t make sense
in a world that makes sense
( and through all of its chaos and unpredictability and its imperceptible ( to us )
complexities nature makes sense )
My insurgent action has no purpose in a sensible world .
In a sensible need there would be no need to disrupt .
It only makes sense on the tarmac .
i wonder how much more present i am than my ( present ) company of
ambling obstacles who are milling ( headless chickening it ) all over the road.
distracted but seem somehow more with it
i think as i bounce my ball through this minefield
taking full responsibility for my
fate, my compromised state of awareness ( if i were to step out in front of a moving car it would be
entirely my fault i think as i cross the street )
i have had more near collisions with
commuters than cars ( which is probably a good thing ) all of which
were in no way were caused by
In urban spaces you can feel the flow of bodies, much more nuanced than automobile social dynamics who, in fixed lanes practice such a rudimentary engagement. People on foot despite having more time to think have much more to think about and they do intuitively. Liverpool street rush hour mornings show such a perfect model of hive mind cohesion as bodies, in the thrall of a collectivized mass motion become one with the group, sync movements and dance unimpeded to their respective tfl platforms. The flow is noticeably marred when a tourist or an other, un-acclimatised to London workday dance dams the flow with their uninitiated ( headless chickening) stance; stands sticking out like sore thumbing all as the blood flows around them; parting around Moses the red sea flows into the lifelines of the city. The issue is
when good bloodcells get wifi;
that dance is lost in favour of
a comprehensive headless
a mass focus on new feeds
as they tweet in their bottle necks and i bounce my ball against the the dam and wonder where it
After deciding to repeat this process again to
document the process of my therapy i find myself unable to
engage in the therapy of which i am documenting .
It is as if the ball is full of
solid air ( to quote the venerable ( but now quite probably dead ( i don’t have the internet with which to check ) ) John Martyn whose music i have heard solidifying the atmosphere of not one
but two coffee shops over the past three days ) .
i haven’t been sleeping again and my waking life is tasting of ground teeth, coffee grounds and sleepy meds again. This is prime tennis ball time but the amount of energy its taking me to give this green ball its levity has made the task ( and it is a task ) somewhat emotionally unfeasible. i have to work to walk this time round and the ball is bucking all the wrong ways against the hard worn tarmac. My eyes strain as they scan over the pavement, ears struggle to make out the traffic and flag all those moments where i could become roadkill.
Every morning when i woke up conscious of a work commute my heart leadened
at the prospect of having to do this chore in the only time i had to vacate. i await the icy hand and the tingling numbness that will first set into my finger’s tips before spreading down to fill my dirty palm.
i’m trying so hard not to fail so as to emerge from this process with
i’m no longer bouncing a tennis ball
I’m making art which the exact thing
i didn’t want to do .
‘tennis ball piece’ presents documentation of an exercise carried out where I bounced a tennis ball everywhere I walked for two weeks ( one week with the right hand
one week with the left ).
Dirt prints from the ball itself create a physical record of all locations walked to within the periods whereas written documentation opens up the more psychological and metaphysical terrain of what was essentially a walking meditation.
The piece explores the reactivation of dormant experience through the incorporation of artifice into one’s everyday functioning.
Initially incepted as a personal therapy; an anchoring or grounding which fostered also, for one having had a history of playing ball sports, a sense of nostalgia and reconnection with childhood. I resented the idea of this ever becoming a performance piece. I repeated the process three times over the years the years and resolved to find a way of somehow presenting the mental terrain or experience and this inadvertantly birthed it into Art. The most recent enacting of the process came about when I realized I hadn’t sufficiently documented the work in 2016. I resolved to go through it again with the aim of reproducing the prints which resulted in the process’ s failure but successes in generating some, to my mind interesting ruminations on the artmaking process. The texts are compliled from the two latter periods of the processes enacting.
tennis ball piece 11″x 16″ dirt prints (x2), text, tennis ball, 2016 / 2020