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September 29, 2008

Objectify Me: Craig Foltz unexplains the golf ball

I suppose that the story behind the evolution of a golf ball is no different from many of the other bulk items we surround ourselves with. Initially, the golf ball was built from organic materials found in the local environment (some sources mention goose feathers, others mud and tree sap), but eventually these organic materials were replaced by synthetics, so that now the ingredient list reads like something out of a controlled chemistry experiment. Ionomer resins. Ethylene copolymers. Ionically strengthened thermoplastic. All compressed and molded to create, in the words of one manufacturer, “outstanding resilience, broad hardness and stiffness range, and excellent durability” (don’t blame me if this smells faintly pornographic, blame the marketing guys down in Georgia).

Of course, this transformation of materials and construction methods is nothing new. But when I study a golf ball I find myself immersed in more whimsical questions.

Where does this golf ball come from? How is it made? What does the size of each dimple mean? Is there someone drawing out each golf ball design, painstakingly wrapping each circle around the next? Is it even possible to accurately draw a golf ball freehand? Is there any one among us that can do this? If so, what side of their brain do they rely on? Will their imaginary golf ball (the drawn one) fly straighter and truer than the ones designed and built in some mysterious flat building in Xiamen City, China? When you think of China do you think of brown dusty fields or lush tropical bush? Does it matter?

Imagine, for a moment, a cloverleaf freeway overpass with traffic regulation lights blinking on and off. Our artist, she’s the one heading to work, sitting in a line of small, tidy cars. Place yourself within the passenger seat of her clean white sedan. On her dash, a row of miniature hood ornaments. All the ornaments serve as stand-ins for cultural icons. Moving from left to right: There’s Elvis Presley in a grass skirt (obviously the figure sways as the vehicle rounds a curve or comes to a stop). Next to Elvis, Chairman Mao, whose detached and almost mournful expression often diverts the artist’s eyes from the road (she must cover him up, she thinks). Towering over Mao is NBA center Yi Jianlian (who some also call “the chairman”). The chairman leans against a guitar wielding Kurt Cobain (a roach clip appropriately appended to the end of the fretboard). Kurt looks up absently at the World Trade Center buildings (she actually got these when she visited New York back in ’99 when everyone was still worried about how the millenium was going to affect their clocks).

So, here you are turning this golf ball over in your hands. Account for every circle. Some of them have a happy imperfection about them. Some spots seem pliable, almost mushy, while others, well, they resist your touch altogether.

– Craig Foltz

Craig Foltz is a writer and visual artist whose work has appeared in numerous journals. He lives on the slopes of a dormant volcano in Auckland, New Zealand.

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