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How Haverford rolls

In the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, a row of five vibrant, yellow-and-red machines welcomes players, while the clattering of wooden balls fills the gallery. On the walls are the names of 1,920 individuals, all of whom are either enrolled at or receive a paycheck from Haverford College.

Friday, March 16 marked the opening of the gallery’s latest exhibit, “And the Winner Is…,” a skee-ball tournament in which every member of the Haverford Community is a competitor. For curators John Muse, a visiting professor and the faculty liason for the Humanities Center, and Matthew Callinan, exhibitions coordinator for the Gallery, the exhibit is the fruits of an idea born two years ago, to conduct a massive examination of conviviality.

Programmers Adam Van Aken, ‘15 and Aaron Lowe, ‘15 took on the daunting task of organizing the brackets, which cover the walls of the gallery. Aken and Lowe also created the software to coordinate emails to every competitor, and electronically run and record the tournament. Those who choose to opt-out of the tournament have their names obscured by black tape for privacy.

The tournament is single-elimination, spread out over 11 rounds. Games may be played whenever the gallery is open. So far, Muse and gallery staff agree that the tournament has been a success. “People who have never come to the gallery are coming to the gallery,” said Muse.

With round two nearly complete, 712 games have been recorded. Gallery staffer Rachel Lim ‘12 says that since the new exhibit began, attendance has risen from barely entering the double digits on a slow weekend to over 100 over a few days. Muse says that substantial portions of the faculty, staff and students have participated, with a considerable number of players from the local community as well, including a kindergarten class from across the street.

“This is supposed to be social practice art,” said Lim, adding that some faculty and students have taken the time to schedule head-to-head games. “In the classroom you only see the students and faculty interacting in an academic way, and in the gallery you get to see them interacting in a very non-academic way – hanging out and having fun.”

A group of Skee Ballers
From Left: Security staffer Chris Covington, Gabrielle Winnick '13, interim President Joanne Creighton and seven-year-old Ozan Borowiak represent a sampling of the skee-ball players who come to the gallery. (courtesy of Colleen Cumberpatch)

Given the unconventional nature of the exhibit, the curators naturally face the question, “How is this art?” Indeed, they believe there is art in exploring social practice. According to Muse, the exhibit explores the question, “How do we live together when we are also competing with each other?”

He says that the art will be in creation as the exhibit progresses, with the relationships between people as the medium. In skee-ball, there are the rules of the game, the associated tactics and strategy, and an etiquette unique to the tournament, which pertains to scheduling games, smack talking, and the relationships formed around the tournament. “If there is any art, it is in the social rules,” said Muse.

As such, a number of visiting artists and speakers accompany the exhibit. Artist Jong Kyu, for example, will host a “black tie tailgate” on April 5, which the curators say will build a “fan culture” around the tournament.

In addition to the artists and tournament itself, an archive of scoring data and observations will be compiled. The curators say artists and mathematicians alike will be able to play with and respond to this data, and reveal which academic departments triumph, and which ones crash and burn.

No winner will be crowned until the tournament is complete on April 20. Until then, the experiment goes on.

“We wanted to know what the differences are between a skee-ball tournament that can happen anywhere, and one at Haverford,” said Muse. “We aren’t trying to find a secret code to what people do or who they are. We do want to know what kind of relationships the games create, and what competing together can bring out in those relationships.”

TOP: Bryn Mawr Thorne Kindergarten students practice their skee-ball technique. (Matthew Callinan for Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery)

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