All the handball courts around NYC and by extension across America owe tribute to the sport of Gaelic Handball whose origins date back to the 13th and 14th centuries in Ireland, and whose rules were standardized in the 18th century.
Of course various forms of a “hand ball” game date back to BC, with various forms being found around the globe. But the modern version you might see played at a site such as the West 4th Street Court Facilities (two pictures above) are particularly indebted to their Irish cousin-sport.
I never knew!
Until I had discussions with West Kerry-based artist Andrew Duggan about his exhibition which is imminently ending (tomorrow!) at the Irish Arts Center on Manhattan’s west side. A site-specific video artist, I can only hope this video gets another NYC screening, because it really has a lot to do with sport & class & other issues that many New York City residents are effected by and talk about – issues of ownership, property, social recreation, public assembly, and most directly (but in an obtuse fashion) the notion of revitalizing communities and rebuilding formerly abandoned and derelict sites (i.e. for lack of a better word, gentrification).
A very simple installation of two juxtaposed video projections. The image on the right appears still but is a moving image (cars driving in the background, shadows fluctuating), of a handball court in NYC (recognizable by the maple leaf Parks logo in the upper corners of the wall, with accompanying fractured concrete) – on this screen sometimes two players emerge and hit a couple rounds of ball, their figures completely silhouetted against the court (the viewer too is inclined to cut the plane of the image, and impose their own shadow on the court!). The image on the left, however, is the “court” you want to watch. Which is ironic given these Gaelic courts are actually designed (unlike the NYC courts which are clad in cyclone fencing) to not be watched, instead they are simply pits of concrete. But a beautifully blue-dressed lady dances (not literally, but sportfully) with an equally blue ball, confronting the daunting nature and scale of this court, sometimes taking excruciatingly long breaths in anticipation of her next attack.
Such a simple juxtaposition. But this is the power of art – a power which so few other forms of cultural production seem to yield. The ability to look at a wall and interpret it in a way that dance, music, or writing simply cannot. Even my words here fail to enunciate the meaning of these two videos. Months of focus and thinking, summed up in a couple of several minute long videos and now I have an understanding of the world in a way that cannot be undone, cannot be un-thought. The world is a strange and wonderful place, and art makes it better. Andrew makes it better!