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The Red Ball That Bounced Through Toledo (in 2015) Is on the Move Again

Category: Art & Culture,Arts & Design

If art is meant to bring joy, this work certainly did: a giant red 250-pound ball that broke free of its handlers, bounced down a street in Toledo, Ohio, over a couple of cars and into internet fame for a hot minute in 2015.

No one was hurt and no cars were damaged. Nothing more was heard of the incident, until, for some reason, a Berlin-based art director posted the 15-second clip on Twitter this past weekend, causing it to go viral again. The newly reposted video is now at more than 30,000 retweets and 3 million views, many of them undoubtedly from people clicking and reclicking.

The art director deleted his tweet, but not before it had already gotten loose and others could copy it.

While the video now has a life of its own, the ball has had one for much longer. For more than 15 years, it has been safely traveling the world as an art installation created by Kurt Perschke, a visual artist who works with collages, sculptures and video.

It began around 2001, when Mr. Perschke was commissioned to develop a project in St. Louis by city officials. So he created a giant ball that is wedged between buildings or other structures around a given city over the course of days or weeks. At the end of September, it is going to Chapel Hill, N.C.

The installation, called RedBall, appears around three times a year and has traveled to Australia, Abu Dhabi, Barcelona and all over North America. The ball is 15 feet in diameter and is made of a PVC fabric — it must have a tough exterior, since it is wedged against concrete buildings. The ball takes about an hour to install and it is — as the clip shows — a true ball.

“When you drop it, it bounces,” Mr. Perschke said. One cannot easily puncture the ball like a balloon, and it does not need to be inflated.

When it’s not on the road, the ball is kept at Mr. Perschke’s studio in Asheville, N.C., where he moved after living in Brooklyn for 15 years. In a phone interview, Mr. Perschke spoke on Monday about his project and the mishap making the rounds again on social media. (The full two-and-a-half-minute video of the ball’s escape and recapture can be viewed here.)

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Did you see that the clip had resurfaced on social media?

Actually, just yesterday, when it was starting to, let’s just say, build up steam, a friend alerted me. I don’t know what started it. Of course, it was trending in 2015 when the event actually happened.

Have you got a sense that more people are interested in the project now?

The funny thing is the project is scheduled for a couple of cities this fall in the United States. When this initially happened, I ended up doing an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. This included some photos that someone had taken inside the car as it was headed at them.

The project’s had a long history. This was the only time anything like this had happened. But, of course, it’s a popular meme.

Is there a part of you that hates that this is what the project is identified with?

I understand that it’s funny and, of course, that’s why it travels. For me, it’s strange. When you put work out in public, it’s different than having it inside a museum. I’ve done both. So when you’re out in public, you’re sort of open for public discourse. I just take it tongue-in-cheek. The piece is dubbed as playful. It’s about those kinds of things. I take it as it comes. It’s a little funny that people have seen that before they’ve seen it as the way it’s meant to be.

Does that bother you?

I don’t think it bothers me. That’s just the nature of what happens. The piece is actually never in motion except for that clip. When we get to Chapel Hill, hopefully, people won’t be expecting that.

Has anyone ever tried to buy the ball?

It’s an artwork. I’ve talked to museums about acquiring the piece and its history and then having performance rights to it. But I don’t sell it as an object.

When the Toledo thing happened, did you have to pay for any damages?

No, there was nothing like that. Nobody was hurt. It was a rainstorm that had come in and we were in the middle of installing and it just sort of got away from us. We actually had a bunch of people that were there — literally, fans of the project — that helped us corral it. In the video, you can see people chasing it. They’re all fans. We corralled it, packed it up, and repaired it in the basement of the museum that night.

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