Tomorrow morning, at 8.45am, we all are invited to see, witness and participate in a giant ball parade, as envisioned by the world renowned Argentine artist Leandro Erlich.
A procession of balls – featuring a giant football, tennis ball, basketball, golf ball and volleyball – will depart from the new exhibition and convention centre at Avenida Presidente Figueroa Alcorta and head toward the Planetarium, Buenos Aires’ own iconic ball and viewpoint to the universe.
Ball Game, the artwork created by Erlich in conjunction with the Youth Olympic Games, which begins this weekend in Buenos Aires, will remain there until October 18, the event’s final day. Every hour, the balls will be moved by members of the public in a unique, playful ball game, one which only works through collective participation.
“When you go to the Olympic village, you see the whole world together,” said Francis Gabet, the director of the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage, who commissioned Ehrlich for this project. “Colour, race, religion, gender are irrelevant in the light of the Olympic values of respect, excellence and friendship. Everyone is there for the same purpose: to fight well.”
“Well, most of them are there to win, and not just to play well,” counters Erlich with a smile as he listens, “but I do care for the spirit of the Olympics, with its long-standing traditions.”
With sincerity, the artist explains how he was influenced by “the fact that the Olympic Games had the capacity to bring about temporary truces in times of war in the Greek empire.”
“I believe that the world nowadays is at war too,” he tells the Times. “Either because of issues of migration or because of economic disparities... the only thing we as humans can do, is to co-exist.”
In light of this togetherness, we are invited to move balls forward? “Yes,” responds Erlich, whose artworks often count on public participation in order for them to ‘work.’
“It is idealistic. But the Olympic spirit is utopic. And I subscribe to that,” he continues. “Not that I think that I will be able to solve the problems of humanity. But we can try to do what we can within our capacities during our lifetime. And that’s what counts.”
Asked whether he has a more direct connection to sports, Erlich recounts a time when he used to be an athlete. He shows a scar on his arm, caused by an old athletic injury.
“I did have a dream once, of participating in the Olympics, like others wanted to be astronauts. But I gave up on that,” he says. “This is more anecdotal though and has nothing to do with me accepting this invitation [from the Olympic Foundation for Culture and Heritage].”
In 2014 the Olympic Foundation set up an international programme through which artists are commissioned each year to make a work in which they, through their art, present a different perspective on the Olympic Games and their philosophy.
This idea, of bringing people in public spaces together, is what brought the foundation’s officials to Erlich, an artist wellknown for his interactive installation pieces, such as Bâtiment or The Swimming Pool. In these works, he created ludique illusions, surprising his audiences, who are invited to form part of the artworks, by seeming to make them hang from the side of a building or stand at the bottom of a pool.
Erlich’s playful approach is often very photogenic. It’s also not that difficult to understand, as in this current work that brings together five giant balls, illustrating five sports from the Olympics. When quizzed about it, he agrees that it seems like a simple proposal.
“The shape itself is also simple. But the ultimate complexity is to make something interesting from something simple,” he explains, adding that “the message [to go forward together] should be accessible and not cryptic, as most is nowadays in the artworld.” He elaborates: “We live in a world ruled by a scientific paradigm, but we must also learn by life experiences. And that’s how you should see this.”
Once you have pushed a giant golf ball through the streets of Buenos Aires, together with a group people you don’t know, you may be able to let go of the economic problems haunting you and the country as a whole. Moving forward through togetherness is the artist’s hope. Perhaps, as antiquity taught us, social participation and games really does go hand-in-hand with the bread, aside from providing us the beauty of an Olympic feast.