Objects fascinate me. In particular, the idea of who has owned objects and what trace they leave on those objects once they pass on or are lost. This idea has been a constant in my art practice from objects owned by my children to World War I objects to abandoned burst balloons.
Last week I went to Wimbledon (for the first time ever!). Yes, I was exploding with excitement. But that’s not the focus of this blog.
Yes, it really was very ace. I will never forget the day.
But while I was there, I acquired some used tennis balls for my children. This wasn’t an easy acquisition but that is a long story involving the kindness of a stranger. I’m not going to tell that story here. But I am grateful to that lovely stranger.
When I got home and presented the used Wimbledon balls to my children, they were rather excited. In fact, they were more excited by the used balls than they were by the expensive Wimbledon souvenir tat that I had also returned home with. The used balls have been a bigger hit, pardon the pun, than the keyring, towel, magnet or lanyard.
Why is that? It is because of the mystery of these used balls. It is because there is a teeny, tiny possibility that someone ‘famous’ has ‘touched’ our used balls. This idea fascinated my children. I think what interested them the most was that they just have no way of knowing. We will never know. We cannot even try to find out. It is impossible. This sensation reminds me of the mystery of Schrödinger’s cat. You know he is either dead or alive (the balls were either touched by a famous tennis star, or they weren’t) but you just have to be content with not knowing. There is excitement in not knowing because of the ‘might’ element. So the thrill of the chance is the ‘might’ (the cat is either dead or alive). This is enough to make the object much more precious than a random other tennis ball that has only been touched by mere mortals.
I found myself getting caught up in the romance of this ‘what if’ idea. I told my children that they could play tennis with the balls but they must not under any circumstances lose them. In fact, the thought crossed my mind that by playing with them, they might somehow ‘rub off’ the trace left by a possible Jack Draper, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams or Julia Görges (the one with the shoes). Logically, that is a rather strange worry to have. Firstly, the balls we own may not have been touched by anyone of note. Secondly, even if they had, the amount of DNA or sweat they may have left on the balls is going to be minute. Thirdly, even if they had left some trace of themselves on the balls, this is fairly meaningless – what does a bit of ‘me’ mean? It is nothing really, it is just material. It isn’t emotional. Having said that, I like to believe that we do leave a trace of our emotional lives on objects. But this isn’t a scientific fact. It’s purely a romantic notion. This doesn’t make the balls special in any way. They are, after all, just tennis balls that have seen a tiny bit of action on a court.
Still, my children and I are very fond of our used balls. We feel the magic even if it isn’t real. And why not? Perhaps there is a trace of Nadal sweat on one of them, and with that, some tennis luck. Next time I play tennis I might take along our used balls and see what happens. Given that I haven’t played tennis for years that might be a long time from now.