Turning Two

Tom Huston     Photo: Geoffrey Cottenceau

In 2011, the Zurich Challengers became the first team in Switzerland to have a ballpark in their country. For the opening of the Heerenschürli Sports Center, the city had a whole night of festivities planned. Included in the celebration were four arts projects completed especially for the opening. Amongst them was the work of Vincent Kohler’s Turnaround collection.

Kohler’s project included 30 custom-made baseball bats. The collection included not only the bats but a making-of book that featured text written by local artists, poets and sports writers. Every piece of the project centered around the turn theme. baseballEBM spoke with Kohler’s to learn more about the collection.

Why did you choose baseball bats?

There was an invitation for an artist contest for the opening of the Zurich baseball stadium. I had never played baseball before so it was new for me to discover this game. The architects didn’t want a sculpture in the stadium so the exhibit had to be mobile, no permanent exhibits would be selected.

My idea was to create 30 different bats, to use some of them with the players and to make different artistic collaborations. There were different levels of collaborations to my project. The first was with the woodworkers. I came with maybe 10 sketches and they helped me to design the rest of the bats. We went into the woods, cut the trees ourselves and tried different things. The final collection features a variety of species of wood.

Why choose wood as your medium if you hadn’t worked with it?

In my mind baseball bats are always made of wood. I chose the theme of turn. A bat is the perfect fit to the theme. Not only does the bat turn around a batter but it is the process by which the bat is created. The word turn was incorporated into the whole design.

Why the word turn?

In the game you go around the bases, both offensive (running) and defensively (turning plays) so it was all pulled together from there. I wanted to make different things around baseball, to turn around the subject. I did the baseball bats, and wanted to collaborate with the players, but it all centered around baseball, that’s why Turnaround.

Talk to me about the shapes of the bats you made?

They are all different shapes. Some look like paper or a table leg, it’s why I wanted to have something about design and form in the story.

Tell me about the rings bat?

It’s quite crazy because it’s done with the same piece of wood.

Photo: Geoffrey Cottenceau

What was your favorite bat?

I liked the one with all the different kinds of woods. They are just glued together and then turned. I don’t know what my favorite is. They are all different. There are no two the same. I like the one that is just like a tree, with some branches still on it. This is quite good.

Were there any advanced design plans?

There were many possibilities. I designed the shapes of some of them but I consulted with the woodworkers and they were free to do what they wanted. Then we would discuss it, make some choices and say, okay this one is good. Some of them just continued to break because the wood was fresh and I liked that too.

Were they all the same weight and size?

The weights are all different. The size was about 1 meter.

How did you conceptualize the book?

I worked with a graphic designer and photographer because I wanted to make a behind-the-scenes of the project. A book was a good way to do this, a way to collect everything, to complete the project.

For the book, I wanted to have five different texts about baseball and I wanted them to turn around baseball as well. I wanted to have something about design, something about sexuality, something about sports and something more political. I enlisted a poet, a sports writer and an artist friend, who is also a writer, to put their text representations about baseball in the book.

How many artists entered the contest?

Maybe ten. They chose four.

What other projects were there?

There was something with cake. I remember that, but I don’t remember the context or the taste.

Tell me about the opening?

We brought the bats we had completed and the guys who created them came along to the opening. We turned some bats on-site and the players tried them out. It was quite fun.

Was that your first time playing baseball?

I just tried one or two bats.

Were the players able to use the bats?

Yeah. Some of them broke so we had to create replacements.

Have you become a fan of the sport?

Not really. I like American things so baseball is definitely part of that. It’s quite fun.

What was great for this project was I could decide everything. When I first got to the park I met some players from Zurich and they were kind of like, okay, what’s this? They weren’t really interested.

At the end of the journey though there were two guys from San Francisco and they were typical baseball players. They had a good time trying the bats out.

The theme of the project was “turning” and every piece of the project is a reflection of this idea. The book text is clearly written by those who researched the game but never came to know it in their hearts. Their research however, will be your reward. They list countless books, movies and other pop culture references to explore in the name of expanding your baseball repertoire. At the same time, the way they use the game to make bigger social points is a nice take on the overall theme.

The book, which is in three languages: English, French and German, is available on Kohler’s website in PDF format for free.

The project was designed in one other way to reflect the game of baseball. Just like players, it was created to travel the roads, making the rounds to different cities, countries and continents for exhibition. The entire collect is archived by the City of Zurich and available for display at your ballpark. To host an exhibit of the collection, email the artist.