ball room

ball room (2017 / work in progress), participatory, performance based work, interventions, various media.

Above: Nicolas Constantin: Ball Room (2017 work in progress), Video-Triptych, concept for Moritzkirche, Augsburg


ball room is an investigation in the motif of figures in movement. The performances unfold in two versions: interactions and interventions. The interactions do display movements and acting of people, throwing bouncy balls together in one room. Core elements are the ambiguous entanglements and tensions between play and violence, between trajectories of the balls and movement of the people. The interventions do focus particularly on the specific dimensions of different spaces, referring on the one hand to an experience of spatial and aural quality, on the other hand focusing on an interpretation and experience of rooms as spaces of knowledge and understanding, examining historical and contemporary perspectives at once. Regarding formal structures, ball room exemplifies basically studies in polyphonic composition.

ball room belongs to a specific, elaborated stage of investigation. The work series covers combinations of studies in composition and performance based elements.

The investigations are long-term studies in composition, involving intervention and interaction related to spatial and social environments.

The approach of ball room can be traced back to the installation Variations IX (2015). Another seminal work series in progress belonging to this approach are the wall-triptychs (2018, long-term investigations).

First raw test versions – 31. October 2017 – intervention #001 and #002 – de libero arbitrio

Above: ball room – intervention #002 – 31. October 2017 – crypt
Below: ball room – intervention #001 – 31. October 2017 – st. anne's church – de libero arbitrio (first raw test version, preliminary study regarding audio and video)

Below: ball room – intervention #002 – 31. October 2017 – crypt (first raw test version, preliminary study regarding audio and video)

The first raw test versions for ball room (preliminary studies regarding audio and video) have been realized spontaneously under quite special circumstances on 31. October 2017, my birthday. My Beloved did make me a wonderful birthday gift: 3 original superballs (1976) from »wham-o«, shipped from U.S.A. via the ocean (see pictures below). Coincidentally, on this day there had been the 500 year celebration of the »Reformation«. As we live next to the »Annakirche«, where Luther did hide while refusing to revoke his theses, we spontaneously did make the first intervention there. Afterwards we went to the Dome to do a raw trial for the second intervention in the crypt. On that day both churches had been very crowded due to the 500 year celebration, so it had been quite exciting to do these first versions being in danger of getting in trouble because of the crowd. Great joy my both Beloved, my bride and my son, did join this adventure with me as a birthday gift, despite the crowd observing our interventions in a quite sceptical way. I do dedicate these two first versions of ball room to my Beloved. Discussing Luther with my son in a critical way afterwards, we decided to dedicate these versions also to Erasmus from Rotterdam, the humanist counterpart to Luther. Therefore, the sub-title of these test versions: »De libero arbitrio«, with reference to Erasmus' publication. In this sense, the ball room interventions are investigations in spaces of understanding, reflections about positions of believe, in contrast with humanistic thinking and ways of understanding through art.


Playful perturbations – interaction

ball room (2017 / work in progress) is a participatory, performance based work. Some versions are also interventions in different spaces. A bouncy ball will be handed out to every visitor to perform the piece.

The work unfolds on several levels. On the first impression, one might be reminded of playful childhood games with a bouncy ball. Starting from this first impression, performing with a bouncing ball seems to be mainly a joyful and lighthearted action to connect with childhood memories. But as the performances continue, there will occur perturbances and questions on different levels will arise.

When several people throw their balls in a small room together, interaction will take place. Very probably, the possibilities of being hit by a ball will increase. Being hit by a bouncing ball, thrown with considerable force, will actually hurt. Confusion increases, the initially harmless »childhood game« turns more and more into an interaction, influenced by the violent aspects of being hit by a ball. How will we respond to these obviously or subtly violent perturbations? With anger? Or humour? Will the performers find a corporate way to interact, or will they interrupt the performance and leave the room in an annoyed mood? Another aspect of confusion will be the problems of following the movements of the own ball. How will we act, if we think our ball has been taken away by another performer? We »make something happen«, we cause a change, and we are not able to foresee the outcome even of a simple action like bouncing a ball. How can we cope with the entanglement of the impacts of our actions?

The ambiguity between play and violence is a crucial aspect of ball room. See below my notions about Golding's »Lord of the Flies«.

Observations – trajectories and movements

»In the idea of putting systems in motion the ideas of action and causation meet.« von Wright, Explanation and Understanding, 1971

Regarding the motif of my investigations of figures in movement, the contrast between the trajectories of the balls and the movements of the visitors is crucial and another core aspect of the work. The trajectory of a ball stands in an exemplary way for the ideal of the possibility to predict and calculate a movement through mathematical operations and physics. But already the seemingly simple movements of the bouncing balls transgress the boarders of calculation, the trajectories will become increasingly chaotic when they do not happen in an idealised, experimental setting. Way more complicated is an understanding of the movements of the persons, resepectively the interaction of the persons. A crucial point is, that the investigation of the movements of the performers, their interaction, understood as human action, could not be described from a mathematical perspective, as this would be a category error. This raises the question, if contemporary approaches of e.g. neuro science, claiming to be able to understand human action in terms of measurments of biochemical and physical data, do not work with a problematic conceptual frame to investigate human nature and action.

Grabbing, naming and throwing a ball are one of the first acts of a child to develop an understanding of objects, of space, of its environment, of its own action and of the reactions of other people. Conceptual thinking develops, the child is »making something happen« (Black 1962) and it learns to observe the reactions of other people to the movements of the ball, caused by the child.

ball room stands as a metaphorical, experimental space for an investigation in human movement and interaction, particularly regarding a critical view on approaches to investigate human action in terms of mathematical analysis.

ball room evolved on the one hand from my ongoing »investigations in movement«, on the other hand it has been inspired by my philosophical investigations in human action. Particularly Max Black's »Making Something Happen«, Austin's »Three Ways of Spilling Ink« and Geert Keil's »Handeln und Verursachen« have been core texts while developing the piece. My philosophical investigations and my art work started to blend in a closer sense since Variations IX. Before 2015, my art work and my philosophical investigations did run more in a parallel way. My philosophical investigations did focus mainly on the epistemological aspects of art in general and they did not directly overlap with my art work. And my work approach is always focused on the formal aspects and quality of composition in a first step, it is not based on conceptual, »philosophical« considerations. Also regarding ball room the entanglement between the formal structure and the conceptual impact is crucial, it is still no »conceptual« approach basically. The conceptual aspects do evolve through the formal structure and the composition of the work. Though the work is not based on my philosophical readings, I nevertheless did study these texts and did focus on the philosophy of action at the time I developed the work, therefore this aspect is mentioned here as an appropriate context insight.

Austin, John L. (1966): Three ways of spilling ink. In: Austin (1970): Philosophical Papers, second edition, Oxford [Clarendon Press], S. 272-287

Black, Max (1962): Making Something Happen, in: Black: Models and Metaphors, London, Cornell University Press, p. 153-169

Keil, Geert (2015): Handeln und Verursachen, Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann

The work on ball room also overlaps for the first time in a quite direct way with my work on my PhD project Medien der Erkenntnis – Experimentalsysteme in Wissenschaft und Kunst, particulary related to my investigations in the philosophy of action. In this regard the work holds a special position in comparison with other pieces.

ball room – parts and aspects – interactions and interventions

ball room, as a work in progress, unfolds in several parts. First part are the performances of the visitors in a museum space. Based on these performances, there will be a video triptych, showing movements of the balls alone, movements of the persons alone and original material. Videostills will focus particularly also on the aspect of portraiture. For formal reasons, the videos will always be made with 3 persons. There will be different constellations of the 3 persons: 3 children (different combinations of boys and girls), three adults (different combinations of gender and age), different combinations of age (children / adults) and gender.


Beside other forementioned aspects, ball room is also exemplifying »temporary portraiture« as a central motif. For insights regarding the portraiture motif and particularly the first seminal appearance of portraiture see Selbstbildnis, Paris 1992.

Space studies – interventions

The work will be performed on the one hand in a museum context and museum spaces with focus on interaction. On the other hand, there will be versions to be performed in other spaces and rooms, like churches, private rooms, working spaces. To perform ball room as interventions to investigate the spatial and social qualities of different spaces is directing the focus of the work towards an experience of the dimensions and qualities of a certain space, referring beyond the material quality of a space to related relms of experience and understanding. Particularly sacral spaces will be from interest in an exemplary way, like gothic architecture with its specific experience of hight, or, on the other hand, the cramped atmosphere of crypts, see images below, the »Kölner Dom« and a Crypt (Unterregenbach). See first test versions below. The ball room performances in the sense of space studies will be called »interventions«, the initial, participatory versions »interactions«.

For the preliminary sample images see wiki commons.

ball room as polyphonic compositions

Particularly in sacral spaces like churches the relationship between the structures of ball room and the roots of my work related to polyphonic music, particularly my own polyphonic compositions for guitar, the Praeludien und Ricercare are important. Actually, the plan to extend ball room to churches did evolve while listening to J.S. Bach's »Komm, Jesu, komm«, BVW 229, zu acht Stimmen (8 voices) und basso continuo, at a Bach Festival in Günzburg, after my son told me about his experiences while visiting the crypta of the Dome in Augsburg. In this regard ball room holds an outstanding position particularly through its structural correlation to polyphonic structures in musical composition.

Material studies – search for the ideal ball – black, playfully bouncy and sufficiently violating

Above: Original 1976 wham-o superballs, used first time for ball room – intervention #001 and #002 – 31. October 2017

Above: Original 1976 wham-o superball, green (original blue)

Above: Selfmade ball, »Ball Ur«

It took quite long research and effort to find the ideal balls for ball room. First problem encountered has been, that it is nearly impossible to get a black bouncy ball via the usual market for toys. Most bouncy balls are (multi-) colored. Only way would have been to order black balls from asian wholesalers, but the quality of the offered balls seemed quite dubios. Already at this step I did came about the famous »superballs« from »wham-o«, black and bouncy, unfortunatelly out of sale.

The even more crucial point had been, to find a ball that is sufficiently bouncy and big enough to be seen on a video, and, most subtle aspect, to hurt when being hit by it in an annoying way. On the other hand, the ball should not be too big, to avoid too obvious violence on the first step. I also did make one ball on my own, see picture below, called »Ball Ur«, because of its archaic quality. Unfortunatelly not bouncy enough.

Finally, as told above, my Beloved did surprise me on my birthday with 3 wonderful original superballs from wham-o, produced 1976. Actually, she did order 1 black and one very special green one, but she did receive for her surprise 4 black balls. 3 from the original order she did missread, and one as a special gift, because the seller had been impressed by sending the first time via the ocean. I did not hope that the superballs will be the ideal ones for the performances, but finally they proofed to be the best ones, even their sound is wonderful, and we have been able to do the first test performances on my birthday as a precious gift. Below a comparison of collected balls and the superball.

An ideal case, the »Capella degli Scrovegni« with works from Giotto – about action, ambiguity and philosophy

Above: Capella degli Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua, with works from Giotto di Bondone

As an ideal case for an intervention I would consider the Capella degli Scrovegni in Padua for several reasons. I had been fascinated by the Giotto frescos since reading Imdahl's »Giotto – Arenafresken«. (Related to my admiration for Imdahl I later did write an entry on his concept of Sehendes Sehen in the Glossary of Image Philosophy). In my Master Thesis about Pictorial Ambiguity (see excerpt in »Image 10«) I did investigate ambiguous structures in the work of Giotto. His way of establishing relations between figures, embedded in compositional structures had been always an important reference for my approach regarding composition, though so far I have not yet mastered to investigate groups of figures in a closer sense. Groups of persons have been a motif partly in Variations IX, where the relations between performer(s) and observer(s) have been already of greatest interest for me, although the perception of the work, related also to the available documentation, has been focused on other aspects. An amazing extension regarding the presentation of the Capella as an »ideal case« evolved during my research for a Philosophy and Art evening at the H2 – Zentrum für Gegenwartskunst, Augsburg, a series I am leading since 2015. The theme of the evening has been »thinking and acting« (»Denken und Handeln«). I looked again particularly in A.C. Danto's »Analytical Philosophy of Action« (what has been already part of my research literature for my PhD project Medien der Erkenntnis – Experimentalsysteme in Wissenschaft und Kunst), where he is starting his investigations in the preface with a beautiful reflection on Giotto's frescos, discriminating different forms of action related to the »always same position« of Jesus' arm: exhorting as a 12 year old in the temple, blessing at the gate to Jerusalem, commanding Lazarus, chasing the moneylenders. Years later, he cited himself in his »Transfiguration of the Commonplace«, pointing directly afterwards to Wittgenstein's notion »What is left over if I subtract the fact that my arms goes up from the fact that I raise my arm?« (PU §621). These considerations are all investigating the relation between mere »movement« and concepts of »action«. As ball room is exemplifying comparable problems and phenomenons, the Capella degli Scrovegni would be an ideal space to perform the piece in some way (related to the possible version regarding safety constraints), regarding the formal aspects related to Giotto and the philosophical aspects not only Danto is talking about.

ball room belongs to a group of works that evolved from core aspects of the major installation Variations IX (2015), while particularly focusing on carving out the central aspects through a considerably simple and clear form of the work, depending as little as possible on technical effort and distraction. In comparison to Variations IX the visitors become performers on an even more »embedded« level. The performers are truly a part of the structures of the work.

Related works

Above: nicolas constantin: three strokes triptych (»not wanting to / say anything about«), 1999, munich, 73 x 51 cm

My calligraphical studies, particularly the three strokes triptych, have been a seminal experience for the development of my work, based on the view that the core aspect of calligraphy is the visualization of human movement. Through my calligraphical practice, movement entered the image in a literally embodied way. Furthermore, the aspect of indeterminacy has been exemplified for the first time. See more insights on the three strokes triptych project page.

ball room exemplifies one core motif of my work in an exemplary way, the »figures in movement«. Many works are somehow variations on this motif. Regarding correlations on a formal level, I would like to point on one work from the series »two figures«, girl's game. The figures established in the game »cat's cradle« between the hands of the participants can be beautifully compared to the trajectories of the balls in ball room, both structures starting from the movements of the hands. See image below, videostill from »girl's game«.

References: William Golding and Bruce Nauman

William Golding's Lord of the Flies – observing the »fall of Eden« with »pitiless, meticulous care and total psychological clarity«

I would like to start with some considerations on possible ambiguous effects of performing ball room: Grown ups might be remembering childhood games. Maybe they will make up some idealized image of childhood, some romantic image of times that are gone. One the other hand grown ups might easily rail against children playing lightheartedly with the bouncy ball, as soon as they will be hit by the balls. These subtle tensions between an idealization and the actual anger against children are from interest. Related to this possible idealization of childhood games is the observation that children can act actually very cruel against each other. In this sense, Golding's Lord of the Flies becomes present:

» A planeload of young boys is marooned on a nameless tropical island and they are forced to fend for themselves. If this novel had been written in the 19th century it would have been about the cheery, whimsical never-neverland the boys created. But in Golding’s version, the veneer of childish purity wears away quickly in the absence of adults, and the boys become two warring tribes, one under the saintly Ralph and his asthmatic sidekick Piggy, one under the savage ex-choir-leader Jack. Golding tracks the fall of this new Eden with pitiless, meticulous care and total psychological clarity, and in the process he ruthlessly strips away the myths and cliches of childhood innocence forever.« Lev Grossman

»Lord of the Flies« is one of my favourite studies in human interaction since I read it in my youth.

Above: Original cover of the first UK edition of Golding's »Lord of the Flies, 1954, Faber & Faber

Violent Incidents – Bruce Nauman

ball room seems to be on the first impression a mainly playful work, dedicated to childhood memories. But soon, the playful performances turn into an interaction that bears aspects of conflict and violence. A metaphorical expression of the unfolding of human interaction.

Regarding this subtly subversive transition from play to conflict, I would like to mention my admiration for Bruce Nauman's Violent Incident from 1973.

»Violent Incident begins with what is supposed to be a joke – but it's a mean joke. I started with a scenario, a sequence of events which was this: Two people come to a table that's set for dinner with plates, cocktails, flowers. The man holds the woman's chair for her as she sits down. But as she sits down, he pulls the chair out from under and she falls on the floor. He turns around to pick up the chair, and as he bends over, she's standing up, and she gooses him. He turns around and yells at her – calls her names. She grabs the cocktail glass and throws the drink in his face. He slaps her, she knees him in the groin and, as he's doubling over, he grabs a knife from the table. They struggle and both of them end up on the floor.« (Nauman in Simon 1988: 148)

»In this simple dinner party scenario a practical joke escalates into bickering and violence. Nauman hired actors to perform it, getting them to play the scene a number of different ways. The variations include one where the male/female roles are reversed; a sequence showing the rehearsals which include the directors instructions on the sound track; and slow motion segments of the chair-pulling action. The wall of blaring monitors, the scripting, and hypnotic repetition all build the aggressive tension. Moral judgements are called into question as the power relations shift and the drama unfolds.« Gallery label, May 2002

Nauman »said that the confrontational work he made around this time stemmed from his feelings of anger and frustration:« »My work comes out of being frustrated about the human condition. And about how people refuse to understand other people. And about how people can be cruel to each other. It's not that I think I can change that, but it's just such a frustrating part of human history.« (Nauman in Simon 1988: 148)

Simon, Joan (1988): Breaking the Silence: an interview with Bruce Nauman, Art in America, September 1988, pp.141-8 and 203

The videostill on the top of the page is taken from a commercial for the famous »superball« from »wham-o«:

Below: »Internal Energy: Elastic and Inelastic Bouncing Balls«, Video lecture

[all works from nicolas constantin © nicolas constantin romanacci]