Bump, Set, Spike: An Outdoor Sculptural Installation

Detail of embellished volleyball net

Detail of embellished volleyball net

This past spring, I was approached by Inliquid to complete a site-specific outdoor installation in Philadelphia.  My immediate thoughts to this were, wow I’ve never done anything like this before ever, but also I think I should definitely do this.  Anyone who is familiar with my work knows that in the past I’ve worked a lot with fussy, delicate materials that really only make sense in a super controlled gallery setting.  For this piece, I knew I’d basically have to throw all of that out the window – the materials I normally use, the display methods I’m comfortable with, and the scale I’m used to working in.  In the past, I’ve made installs that feature the smallest object, like a piece of candy, repeated out to create a larger gesture – for this piece, I was given a large field of grass to work with, which meant that every object I placed in the space needed to be blown up to be visible.

In short, I knew this piece would end up functioning as a huge lesson in control.  I knew that I couldn’t be precious with anything I was making for this, since there were so many variables, so much with which I couldn’t have the high level of control I am used to having in a gallery.  It could be really windy outside that day.  What if it rains.  What if a bird poops on it.  What if ants crawl on it.  And on and on.  For someone like me, who mostly enjoys being a huge control freak with her art, and actually has made entire projects about this control – all of these variables kind of freaked me out, if I’m being honest.  And then the hilarious thing was, after all that worry, it did end up raining on the date of the install, and we had to reschedule.

But rescheduling was the right call, because the weather we got on the rain date was basically perfect.  I took a neon yellow volleyball set that I had purchased online, complete with a bright yellow boundary tape that outlines the playing area, and set it up outside in the field.  Using the boundary tape meant that the final dimensions of the piece were 60 feet long by 30 feet wide and 8 feet tall – which is actually crazy big compared to other things I’ve made (the biggest previously being 12 feet tall by 6 feet wide and 6 feet deep).  The volleyball net was embellished with super bright ribbons, yarns, tulle, and other textiles that were tied to the mesh in mass, in gestures that ended up looking almost painterly.  Inside the playing area I set up brightly colored playing balls that were also embellished, covered in ribbons and cellophane and foils in borderline neon colors.

I had a lot of fun with this piece.  The turnaround for it was quick by my standards, only a little over 2 months, so I wanted it to be entertaining to work on and I needed it to come together quickly.  I love that bright colors are engaging and almost hypnotic – they invite people to come toward them, which I got a chance to see in person during the actual install.  Little kids loved this piece, and one toddler walked right in with her arms outstretched, with her parents being like ‘is this okay?’ and me waving them all in to play.  I wanted to make something that people could engage with, to activate the space, and in that respect I think the piece delivered.  At a time in American history where there is so much tension, so much polarity, so much frustration and anxiety and feels to deal with, it was cool to make something that brought people together, with strangers forming spontaneous games and discussions in a lovely outdoor space.

While the bright colors and decorative materials were a lot of fun, they also tied into some of the more serious conceptual content of the piece that I was interested in.  With the #metoo movement and so many stories surfacing about American sports institutions failing to be inclusive towards women and failing to create safe spaces for them, I felt a lot of pent up frustration and sadness and was struggling to find an outlet for to it.  I liked that this piece was a way for me to provide commentary on hypermasculinity in sports, embracing overtly feminized identities for sports equipment to create an alternative active space that subverts and departs from more normalized versions.    

I feel in a lot of ways that this was exactly the piece I needed to make in 2018, and it was great to get the chance to push outside my creative comfort zone, to install something new in my city and to interact with a really engaged audience.  I felt really supported by the people who came out to see it and all who encouraged me while I was working on it.

So all in all, really positive experience.  But definitely still a pretty big control freak when it comes to my art, and probably always will be.