looking at a photographed picture of a countryside
barn—its solid stone foundation, chipped red
paint, spider-webbed corners, sun‑glistened
windowpane and dry, crackling hay. Imagine slapping
your hand down on this picture and crumpling it
into a ball. Now imagine doing the same thing to
the actual barn. Now do the same to a city street.
A tree. A UPS truck.
Well, sort of. Genius? Well, kind of.
the brain of sculptor Lars‑Erik Fisk do these
concepts come. When he is not designing the huge,
multi‑media stage shows for the legendary
band Phish, he plays with balls. Big balls. Really
off a big gig at the DeCordova Museum in Massachusetts,
the twenty-eight-year-old Fisk has enjoyed a success
rarely seen at his age or in his profession. He
is already emerging with an art form recognizably
his own. This is because his "Balls" series
is undeniably irresistible. It's just too bad that
Fisk receives much of his art appreciation via mass
destruction. Let's face it, when you see a ball,
you want to roll it—no matter that it is a
$10,000 art piece that has been slaved over for
nearly three months.
the sphere today, gone tomorrow fate of Field
Ball, a mind‑boggling, sod‑covered
grass‑like thingamajig four feet in diameter.
While it was showing on the front lawn of the Hood
Museum at Dartmouth College, one of its admirers
couldn't resist the urge to prove that he got game.
Moments later, Field Ball became Field Dome. Only
days later, Street Ball—a ponderous,
eight-foot sphere of asphalt and yellow dotted lines—was
formally introduced to the concrete pillars of the
Hood's front gate. The gate survived. Street
Ball didn't. Local detective Daniel Gillis
decried it as "irreparable damage to the piece,
but also the aesthetic, cultural and educational
value that such works of art bring to the community."
yeah, but... they are balls. And,
as such, they contain an undeniable potential energy,
screaming to be released. One can hardly blame the
"vandals" for their attempts at "liberating"
them. Least of all Fisk. "I forgive them,"
he admits, "after the sadness of losing them
passes. I mean, I'm glad they're so compelling.
They beg to be rolled."
they are, pulling off the monumental trick of being
equally as fascinating to eight-year‑olds
being dragged to the museum to experience some "culture"
as they are to art connoisseurs. In Shakespearean
terms, the balls play to the groundlings as well
as the upper balconies. But no matter where we sit,
as human beings we suffer the obsession of finding
order among chaos. By nature, we separate, sanitize
and categorize. Civilization itself is an attempt
at ordering disorder. Fisk's art takes this instinct
to the extreme—if you could take the uneven
curves and edges and ripples of a maple tree, how
would you package it? Where would it be located
in Wal‑Mart? The balls represent life with
no assembly required.
destruction of Fisk's art, then, satisfies our opposite
urge, the urge to play, expel energy and destroy.
this rolled into a simple ball.
likens his art's effect to Cubism in the 1920s.
"People looked at that and said, 'My God, a
café table doesn't look like that! That's
ridiculous!' Likewise, [in my work,] the object
being transformed is irrelevant. The transformation
is what's important." To subtract, reduce and
distill an object until it is an abstracted symbol
of itself entails asking the question, what is its
essence? How can one say "barn‑ness"
or "truck‑ness" in the fewest words
possible? About UPS Ball, Fisk says,
"Everything about UPS is brown. The drivers
wear brown, they always have brown hair and brown
mustaches, and they drive brown trucks and deliver
brown packages. If I can get people to look and
say, 'Wow, UPS brown is really a swell brown' and
appreciate and get a different understanding of
it, I'm happy."
sphere is merely the least likely form for these
things to be represented in. Not to mention that
a sphere has no beginning. No end. No edge. No borders.
Just a spinning infinity of an object that normally
has all of the above. It's hard to imagine that
Barn Cube would be anywhere near as
potent as Barn Ball.
once, then, Fisk's work is the most interesting
fusion of realistic and abstract art. He only uses
materials true to the source—Tree Ball
is made from a tree, Roof Ball from
roofing, and Barn Ball from wood,
stone and hay (as the only ball with an interior,
it has been installed with an inside light that
can be turned on and off ). But because of their
new, perfect and completely inappropriate geometry,
we are forced to reevaluate their commonplace standing.
Banal objects we wouldn't look at twice are suddenly
the most fascinating things we've ever seen. Suddenly,
everything's a toy. Suddenly, we're kids again.
unlike that catchy pop song whose simple chorus
wears old fast, the balls have a complexity that
can strike deeper chords. Barn Ball,
for instance, is a slyly sarcastic response to the
over‑romanticization of the "classic
countryside farm," the kind of cute, winsome
paintings you see on calendars and refrigerator
magnets and in films like The Bridges of Madison
County. By skipping the step of reproducing
the barn on a trinket and actually squashing the
barn into a trinket, we come face
to face with our own absurdity.
intentions are refreshingly low‑falutin'.
"I want to ignore this concept of the artist's
ego, the artist as a higher being. I don't believe
an artist's invented forms can be any more interesting
than a basic form. A sphere is already understandable
and accessible to everyone." By removing his
role as an "innovator," Fisk becomes more
of a laborer, hammering and molding toward the already
existing goal. "In a lot of modern art, the
craft of it is not as important as it once was,"
laments Fisk. "People look at stiff, conceptual
art pieces, like a canister of horse piss, and they
don't really respect that as they would a neo‑classical
stone carving of a figure, because they can understand
all of the effort that went into the craft
own craft of employing vast technical know‑how
toward the most rudimentary of shapes has his fans
only because it is a natural part of the audience's
giddy befuddlement, but also because of the apparent
preposterousness of creating such endearing monstrosities.
Each ball, although similar in form, represents
an unprecedented challenge of construction. How
does one begin to sphericize the unspherical world?
Within this question lies the rare promise of almost
total artistic freedom—because of the ensured
and preconceived end result of a ball, the artist
now finds that his palette includes almost every
single object existing within the modern world.
Yet, this is severely tempered by the near impossibility
of the task itself—it takes a lot of work
to look effortless. However, Fisk has so far succeeded
in transforming everything but the kitchen sink.
Well, okay, he did that one too (Sink Ball).
A: Tree Ball. A flawlessly bark‑covered
nub of a tree. People regularly ask Fisk, "Where
did you find this plant? Did you grow it?"
On the contrary, Fisk got himself a huge maple log
and chainsawed and carved at it until it was a solid
250‑pound sphere. Then he stripped bark from
other tree drums, made it pliable by soaking it
in water, taking excruciating pains to make sure
the bark looked seamless and hiding the axis where
the ridges meet with a natural knot in the bark.
Add some wood glue, and presto‑change‑o.
reactions are normal for the balls. When a private
collector bought UPS Ball and displayed
it on his front lawn, he was greeted one day by
a pair of UPS workers. "We just wanted to let
you know that we're here to pick up our thing out
there," they said. "We're not sure how
it got here. Maybe it fell off a truck." On
the owner's protestations that it was a work of
art, they kindly maintained, "It's no problem.
We'll take it. Free of charge." Later, a postal
worker expressed his admiration of the new "drop
box" but admitted that he had no idea how to
B: The DeCordova Ball. Fisk's most
recent work was created for the DeCordova Museum's
"Sphere in Contemporary Sculpture" show.
The objective: to make a ball out of the DeCordova
Museum, a rather complex brick building. With three
months to finish it, Fisk began. Since you can't
exactly buy these bricks at the local Home Depot,
twelve hundred delicately shaped bricks with compound
curves (curving side‑to‑side as well
as top‑to‑bottom) had to be hand‑made
from a pickup truckŠsized lump of raw clay. Fisk
found himself in the dubious position of hanging
directly beneath his suspended, 5,500‑pound
concrete sphere, gooping on the clay that was needed
for the bottom of the ball, only to find much of
it succumbing to gravity's pull. Once Fisk dealt
with all the bricks shrinking by twenty percent
(leaving a huge gap), he began the three‑day
process of 1,930 degrees. This process ended with
Fisk opening the oven to find blackened, warped
and exploded bricks. With time waning and heart
breaking, Fisk abandoned the project.
of this strife stems from his stubborn refusal to
construct the balls from anything but genuinely
indigenous material. He could have stopped working
with the completion of the concrete ball and just
painted it to look like DeCordova. But it is commitment
to the transformation of the native object that
makes this series pure, and with this in mind, Fisk
dove back in, grinding the warped bricks into submission
and adding color to the ones most in need. Pascal
Spengemann, curator of the Firehouse Center for
the Visual Arts, calls Fisk a "generous"
artist. "He doesn't make us wallow and suffer
through the difficulty he goes through. He's not
one of those guys who make us say 'Wow, look how
many moth wings he used to make George Washington's
the work is paying off. Almost every ball (that
hasn't been destroyed) has been snatched up by museums
or collectors. In a time when a lot of art just
makes people nod their heads in hesitant "appreciation,"
the balls enjoy a wondrous "lightness"
about them. Balls are like playthings, and playthings
are fun and easy to relate to—fun to such
an extent that it is hard to report on Fisk's work
without using such gratuitously horrible puns as
"Sphere and Loathing," "Sphere and
Present Danger," "From Sphere to Eternity"
and "Blood, Sweat and Spheres." Their
appealing charm suggests that Fisk could continue
in this rather circular direction for some time.
"I want to play this out some more," he
admits. "I don't consider myself very cunning
and creative. Right now, I just apply my formula
to things and get to work."
would seem that Fisk need only beware of the temptation
to become too clever or tricky. What makes a ball
like UPS Ball work so well is its
spare succinctness—it is recognizable, simple
and, most importantly, mute. Fisk doesn't work like
many painters do, discovering the true form of the
piece along the way. Instead, he handles his sculptures
as an architect handles the construction of a building.
This painstaking method guards against the danger
of being swept away by an attractive gimmick. Paint
can only represent something, anyway. Architecture
is that thing; we have no choice but
to physically contend with a building that we see
and, inherently, to consider what the building is
used for and what's inside of it. The fact that
Fisk represented the DeCordova Museum is really
incidental. The fact that he figured it out and
transformed it is essential.
the conceptual horizon for Fisk are Stop Balls
(modeled after the ceramic tile and mosaic New York
subway stops), Burlington Town Hall Ball
(a ball for the Burlington, Vermont, Millennium
Celebration that doubles as a time capsule via an
opening top dome) and School Bus Ball
(use your imagination). The idea of travelling to
a different culture and encapsulating, say, a Japanese
garden into a ball has enticed Fisk for some time.
Although the intent to "ball" a revered
culture is slightly more dangerous than his previous
work, Fisk sees it as the natural function of his
position as an artist. "Art is about getting
people to look again and give themselves a new perspective
on things. Or, at the very least, remind them of
the meantime, the balls' strict set of guidelines
continue to inspire people to come up with their
own concepts of reimagined banality. Can't you picture
them? Dumpster Ball? McDonald's
Ball? River Ball? The ideas
just keep on rolling.