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Day November 19, 2009

ON BALLS

So I’m sure at this point that everyone has seen them; it’s kind of hard not to. They’re balls. Four of them. They are each bigger than a person, and they are sparkly and vaguely teletubby-colored. And apparently almost 1800 people are mad as hell about them.

I’ve rarely seen such an eruption of dialogue on this campus (and no lie, it brings me great glee), and certainly never over anything so innocuous. But there’s an incredible deal of anger about them, ranging from the money spent on them to their clash of aesthetics with the architecture to just that they look like aliens landed on the grass. So I figured, being a senior art major at this school, I might as well clear up a few things:

First, the money. That seems to be the biggest problem everyone has; but what they don’t realize is that the money spent on them could not legally have been spent on anything but public art. Not elevators, not computers, not scholarships, not art supplies for students. It’s part of a program called Percent for Art. Check out New Jersey Statute 52:16A-31. According to this, any new public building created at the expense and for the use of the state must incorporate a fine arts element, costing no more than 1.5% of the total cost of the construction of the building. The four balls are only about .67% of the cost of the new Art and IMM building. Furthermore, there are some other things to consider: these are a permanent installation, not a limited-time exhibition or one-time performance. Read over the SFB article every week in the Signal; the price of the balls has been far exceeded by one-time several-hour concerts – for example, the allocated total funds for this year’s three concerts and four comedy shows came to $225,000 and $120,000, respectively. Keep in mind that while everyone pays over $200 a semester for activity fees, only a limited portion of the campus community attends any of these given shows – under a thousand people, in fact, because Kendall Theater and the Mayo Concert Hall can’t accomodate any more than that. Meanwhile, these are pieces that are permanently accessible to everyone, at all times.

Which brings me to the next point of contention, which is that they are an eyesore. Honestly, I feel no sympathy for people tooting this horn. I’m sorry, is your Disneyland campus ruined now? (And that’s only half-sarcastic – TCNJ boasts in its prospective student brochures that they consult extensively with designers from Disneyland to craft their campus aesthetic.) Is the subtle balance of pseudo-colonial architecture constructed within the last fifty years and recently lead-free astroturfed sporting fields that severely interrupted? Does glitter really piss you off that much, make your blood boil and your pulse throb in your temple? Were you previously reveling in a joyous bubble of red brick, twiggy trees and shrubs, an experience now forever lost? (And on that note – do you know how much those pretty little trees cost?)

Another point to keep in mind is that this is the first piece of public art on TCNJ’s campus. The first. Ever. For all that it boasts of its fine reputation, even deigns to call itself a “public ivy,” it is the only college in the state that I can think of that has been up to this point art-free – take a quick drive down 206 to Princeton and witness the multiple pieces strewn amongst a campus even more firmly set in its historical aesthetic. My younger sister goes to school at Stockton, a more humble college, and yet they too put us to shame – for all that their buildings look like college-ized high school buildings, their campus has seen fit to make a point of including statuary. Fuck, Panera Bread has more public art than we do. As far as looking out of place goes, they’ll have a more logical context with future pieces of art to come.

Meanwhile, Willie Cole is an internationally-renowned (far from unknown, as some have been claiming) prominent African-American artist, a recipient of numerous awards who very recently had a solo show of his work at the Met in New York; he has work in the Met, at MoMA, at the Whitney.

As far as I’m concerned: I like ’em. I’ve never been a big fan of the pretentious super-collegiate architectural facade this school so values, and I love that these pieces are such a departure and contrast. Sure, I think the justification sent out by John Laughton (Dean of the School of Art and Communication) is a bit of a stretch; I get what they’re going for conceptually, with the spheres representative of a basic shape which forms the armiture of more traditional work in drawing, painting and sculpting, and the individual colors representative of individual pixel colors which together comprise a digital work. But I don’t think it needs to rest on that; I think the real strength of this work lies in the fact that something so innocent, so innocuous, so utterly harmless and uncontroversial has created the biggest uproar in my time here. They are far from aesthetically unpleasing art – gosh darn it, they’re down right… pretty. Just straight-up pretty. I’m not sure how much further one can push the concept of “pretty” than sparkly purple, pink, yellow and blue. Trust me, there’s plenty of more traditional art that’s just downright fugly (while you’re in Princeton checking out their outside public art, stroll into the gallery, up the flight of stairs, and spend a little time in contemplation in front of “The Pasta Eater” by Luca Giordano.)

And if you’re one of those people who, infuriated by the presence of the balls, has come to question the need for artists in society, and has even been driven to advise them to “get a real major, like accounting”: first of all, back away from your computer, throw out your iphone, rip off your clothes and run out of your house – sorry, none of those products you’re surrounded by would exist without an artist in charge of their design. You’ll have to take to foraging hunter-gatherer style, unless you don’t mind touching that artist-designed food packaging; and once you get to the register, you’re screwed. That stuff you’re pulling out of your wallet? That stuff that accounting revolves around? You know, money? That’s the most art of all – the grandest of conceptual art pieces! – simply a piece of paper with some carefully arranged lines, with absolutely no inherent value (unlike clothing, or food, or shelter), just that which everyone has decided to agree on and honor in daily trade. Suck it up, bitch! We live in a visual culture.

And as a Dutch lady once said, “Since when is having some balls a bad thing?”

TCNJ AT WAR (OVER BALLS)


Photo by Ron M. Seidel

The campus is in ruin… everything is aflame; the stately clock spire which once stood proudly atop Green Hall is no more. Over a period of months, the students of TCNJ have divided themselves into factions divided over one issue: Balls. It began with Facebook groups and polite comments concerning the art installation, but quickly turned into a war of ideals and prerogatives of both pro and anti-art spheres. A small protest against the balls slowly turned into a campus wide conflagration, splitting the student body into two parties whose sole purposes we re to ensure the destruction or preservation of the balls. SGA president Billy Plastine made every effort to tame and appease his constituency, while at the same time recognizing that the balls seemed “unnecessary and frivolous.” This effort fell to ruin after the February assassination of President Plastine, which was linked to the insurgent group “The Sparkly Hand.”

The week after President Plastine’s assassination was tense, as all campus organizations weighed in on the matter. While political groups were divided internally, many athletic groups and Hellenistic organizations took opposing sides over the balls, and the majority viewed the assassination of President Plastine as a necessary “terroristic” method to convey the student body’s utter disgust.

Following the division, those known to be ball supporters were victims of hate crimes and attacks; most notably the lynching of Nat Sowinski and Kate Whitman in front of Green Hall, which posed a violent warning to all ball supporters. The college attempted to maintain order in vain, for a divided campus ensured that a civil war was slowly brewing within the quiet brick walls.

In the oncoming weeks, acts of violence increased in both frequency and ghastliness, serving only to exacerbate existent problems; known Socialist Matthew Hoke beheaded the leader of the College Republicans, Brian Hackett, with a Swiss Army Knife. Local newspaper editor Michael Tracey, along with his female lover Anya Saretzky, was kidnapped and hobbled by the Campus Catholic Ministry. (Note: they may have been planning to attack him far before the balls were constructed, but this was considered the catalyst to finally paralyze Mr. Tracey and his companion.)

The turmoil culminated on Wednesday, March 17, 2010, at a meeting convened by the Student Government Association, in what became known as the Saint Patrick’s Day Massacre.

This meeting began as others before it, with Senator of Culture and Society Sean Parsons making efforts to calm the turmoil. He began his infamous address to the General Assembly by saying “Balls are not what divides us, but rather the manner by which the balls were imposed.” Moments after this utterance, Senator Parsons was shot in the arm – the bullet narrowly missing his chest – by a rebel assassin who had taken advantage of the SGA’s open invitation attendance policy for meetings. The gunman then shot all the members of the Executive Board execution-style, crippling the Student Government’s ability to effectively govern. Before collapsing, Senator Parsons brandished his derringer and shot the vigilante in the face, instantly killing the rogue who was later identified as political deviant Ron Seidel. The bloodshed was the greatest this campus has seen since the butchery at Lake Silva in 1901, in which 55 students were summarily drowned for rejecting the school’s policy on columns, earning it the title “The Wet Slaughter.”


The events of that fateful Wednesday afternoon sparked a chain reaction which eventually led to the suspension of all organizations on campus. With no club constitutions binding their behavior, the pro-ball faction, or Ball Backers, unleashed a torrent of violence, which in turn provoked a vicious anti-ball response. On March 23rd, the anti-ball group, known as the Ball Busters, destroyed the Blue Ball in front of Paul Loser Hall. The Ball Busters rolled the sphere down Pennington Road, through Trenton, and in a victorious display of defiance, drowned it in the Delaware River. The Ball Backers were in frenzy; enraged, they began the systematic removal of all known Ball Backers from campus. Going from residence hall to residence hall, the group rounded up every “Buster” and caged them in front of the Clayton Brower Student Center. In a horrifying display, all those who refused to renounce their allegiance to the Ball Busters were burned at the stake. The National Guard stood hopelessly by, unable to begin an attempt at rescue. Those who had maintained neutrality on the ball issue were enraged; the once powerful Ball Backers were now the targets of random acts of violence. On April 15, 2010, now known as the Tax Day Revolution, the Busters destroyed the three remaining balls. Deciding that a campus which supported the balls was not worthy of existence, the Busters burned each academic building to the ground during afternoon classes, leaving over 1,800 dead and the campus in ruin.

In a bold yet tragic display of patriotism, TCNJ President R. Barbara Gitenstein, as one witness described, “Brandish[ed] two military assault rifles, while at the same time throwing, at random, homemade explosive devices towards anyone who stood in her way.” The late President Gitenstein killed over 350 students with a flamethrower, and successfully defended Paul Loser Hall before being ruthlessly drawn and quartered. The hall, now renamed “Savior Gitenstein Hall,” commemorates her valiant efforts, as well as her unsanctimonious death.

Let the brutality of these events give us pause as we reflect on our actions and the actions of those close to us. It was a situation similar to the peasant revolutions of 1848; cities blockaded, divided by ideology which threatened to wipe them from the annals of history. The College of New Jersey may have had the best of intentions by installing these balls, but the nightmare which accompanied them can never be wiped from the memories of those who lived and survived the episode.