‘Redribble-ize’ the Earth: Basketball Court Art Installation Explores Environmental Themes, Replenishes Soils

Above: Drawing of the proposed ‘human’ side of the basketball court, with tentative text in free throw lane.

 

When it comes to communicating the brilliant, practical, natural and economic solution that is rock dust, a creative remineralization basketball court provides the ‘slam-dunk’ combination of educational art and inspirational play.

Walker Tufts

“Games have been really successful for us in finding a place where we can have conversations with people outside the ideological frameworks of either ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ to instead focus on the issues themselves and investigate them in ways that are harder to do in everyday life,” says Walker Tufts, co-founder and lead artist at Kosmologym.

He adds: “Games are an interesting way to get people to invest in or explore ideas. You can often disarm or avoid people’s pre-existing political beliefs or the notions they might have when you invite them to play a game.”

Collaborating with sculpture artist Greg Stewart, Tufts’ art collective is developing a very special basketball court at Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer, Minn., which is near St. Paul-Minneapolis. Under development this summer, the interactive art installation will invite humans and non-humans to cavort with soils.

“In trying to figure out ways to tie human beings into this larger ecological system, we were really intrigued by imagining that on one half of the court there’s what we’d think of as the ‘natural’ world, and on the other half is the human action. They’re bound together through the process of remineralization, which impacts the soil and ties these two halves of the court together.”

Half of the court will contain a custom concrete-like surface that will release minerals as it is worn down by players and the weather, while the other half will include a garden of prairie plants that encourage microbial and arthropod activity and offer habitat for purple martins. According to Tufts, through a game framework he hopes participants re-imagine what it means to both work and simply exist in the world.

“A lot of it is also about exploring non-verbal languages and means of collaboration and innovation,” he says, adding his team intends to develop rules for a modified basketball game that makes sense on this particular court. “We’ve already made a couple of games that modify the rules of basketball for other projects.”

To create the crumbling court concrete, Tufts says crews are currently conducting mineral testing in conjunction with science collaborators. Local scientists will help develop a monitoring program to measure the remineralization.

Drawing of the proposed ‘natural’ side of the basketball court, with a birdhouse and pollinator hotel.

“Much of the work is about figuring out different ways of framing our relationship to nature. For us, it all started with questions about the human position as a part of nature and not in nature. We’re trying to figure out different ways to create works, sculptures, games or some interactive performances situating people inside this broader ecology.”

A small, onsite garden shed with an attached bench will house basketballs and provide a site for further interpretive materials to all those who come to play.

“We’re still sort of developing some other elements as well,” says Tufts. “And so, we might also have a set of tools that will help people spend some time with the prairie grass and the prairie plants as well.”

 

Why basketball

When first imagining an interactive art project, Tufts says, his art collective was inspired by ideas of countering the act of plowing, since this human agricultural activity often erodes and interrupts how the plants might otherwise keep minerals within the soils.

“And so, we were thinking a lot about these very small, simple actions that would reverse the process, which again was a fairly simple action of tearing up the earth in the process of planting something, and we were trying to think of ways to reverse that. What is a simple human action that could aid soil remineralization instead of demineralization?”

He adds: “Of the sports we looked at and were interested in for reframing this process, basketball and the act of dribbling and bouncing the ball became symbolic of a practice. By dribbling over and over again on this court made of this concrete that will decay, in a way the dribbling becomes a practice that remineralizes.”

 

Court construction

Located in the park’s overflow parking lot, mown grass will largely comprise the basketball court, which Tufts says gives it the familiar feel of a sports field. Native plants fill the free-throw lane on the ‘nature’ side of the court and emerge from Franconia’s restored prairie. A birdhouse and pollinator hotel will replace the nature side basketball hoop.

Court construction materials: remineralizing paving stones with letters.

On the human side of the court, the free-throw lane will include concrete pavers of a specific aggregate designed to release minerals that increase the soil’s carbon-holding capacity as they decay.

“The area of the court we’ll be making in concrete will actually be made of different formulas,” Tuft says, adding the materials used for this project are completely original. “Standard concrete is a cement, gravel and sand mixture, and we’ll be adding other minerals and fillers to weaken the concrete. We will be doing this in different ratios.”

The concrete pavers will contain a text piece composed of soil letters that come up through the pavers as they wear away. Kosmologym will determine the messages based on site-specific research and tying in players’ actions within the surrounding ecology. Gravel beneath the pavers will also integrate soil remediating minerals.

“We will be able to see the speed at which things decay,” Tufts notes. “There isn’t much available research on how to make bad concrete, and so we are essentially making a prototype for this and have different mixtures of concrete so we can see which [samples] decay at what speeds.

“Concrete that breaks down could be used for any kinds of sculptural works, but we do hope to do a series of these courts in different locations.”

 

Practical potentials

While his new crumbling ‘concrete’ is being developed largely for artistic purposes related to the remineralization basketball court and other future sculpture works, Tufts realizes there could be potential practical uses for the material.

Prototype of paver with soil letter cut through.

“At this point, it’s more of an educational and representational tool,” he says. “However, we’ve been shopping out the idea to a couple of places and this is the first place it stuck. Now, the hope is that by creating this sort of prototype we will be able to attract other partners.”

Following recent conversations with Remineralize the Earth founder and executive director Joanna Campe, Tufts says he believes there are many opportunities to collaborate in a university setting, allowing Kosmologym to develop more materials or products with a wider variety of applications.

“It could be installed in the right location essentially as a way of distributing rock dust over time,” he adds. “One of the things that we’ve been thinking about are these sorts of interventions in trails and locations where you would have a wider distribution of the materials.”

 

Carter Haydu is a writer, reporter, and journalist based in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He works for JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group, with regular articles appearing in the Daily Oil Bulletin. He is a freelance columnist with the award-winning Quad Town Forum weekly newspaper, based in Vibank, Saskatchewan. He also contributes content for a series of magazines in and around Regina and Saskatoon. He received a BA in Political Science and Philosophy from Augustana University College in 2001 and a diploma in journalism from Grant Macewan College in 2005.

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