PATRICK STEPHENSON

Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

“House of Balls”

by Patrick Stephenson,
animistic artist profiler

ROCHESTER MAGAZINE // The House of Balls (212 3rd Avenue North), a Minneapolis art gallery owned and operated by sculptor Allen Christian, is the sort of place you’d hope to find during a walk ’round some random city, a portal into the unknown secreted ten feet and a corner away from a coffee bar. If life were an eighties movie, within the gallery’s darkened innards a gremlin would live. And in a world whose every inch seems charted and disappointingly pre-explored, the House of Balls would be your savior, House of Ballstunneling thereafter—like a rabbit hole or an especially potent drug—into a location detached from drab living.

The House, which sat hidden behind construction during our visit last month, is indeed a source of several mysteries, the first of which concerns its name. The House of Balls. To what does that last word refer? Balls? While inside, should you expect to browse through a selection of baseballs, basketballs, ping pong balls and every other kind of spherical athletic equipment? Maybe, but maybe not. If you were to learn that the House of Balls, which is in Minneapolis’ warehouse district, isn’t too far from Sex World, would you come to a different conclusion, one more organic and unprintable? That seems likely, but you’d be wrong. Well, maybe not. Let’s explain.

“I’d say [the name] is more than a double entendre,” says sculptor Christian, an electrician by day whose work has been on display in his gallery for the past 18 years. “The number is endless.” Christian continues, “For me, it’s a name that people remember, for the mystery of what their own lives bring to [its definition]. ‘The house of balls? What is that, mmm?’ Obviously, sex is a big part of it. ‘Can I buy ping pong balls there?’ It means a lot of different things. ‘Balls’ as in courage, fearlessness. In some ways it represents all of those.”

Literally, the name originated from Christian’s attraction to the bowling ball, a found object he’s upgraded from a pudge-fingered resting place to high art in pieces throughout the House of Balls. “As human beings, we’re basically animals,” says Christian. “But we have the ability to create something outside of ourselves that the rest of the kingdom has been unable to do, and that has to do with the bowling ball, where somebody’s fit their fingers into those holes and some part of their history has transferred over into the material.”

Christian’s thoughts are in tune with a kind of philosophy/spirituality called animism, according to which, he says, “there is common thread, much bigger than we let ourselves know, that binds us all together. It’s in these inanimate objects that some part of us gets placed.” Animism is why Christian encourages his visitors to touch his creations, to break past gallery taboos about restricting contact with artwork. “We’ve really lost a sense,” he says, “of what it means to be in touch with the world. Walking through that door and being able to touch things… hopefully, it’s a tactile thing, a form for ideas, a way for me to connect with the world as an individual.” And vice versa.

That Christian seeks these kinds of connections is a sign of great courage. Years ago, he was seriously assaulted by five men, and facial reconstructive surgery was required. One day, on a street outside a studio showing, he’d intervened when he saw a man beating a woman. In response to Christian’s attempts to help the woman, the man beat him with help from a carful of friends. “It’s hard to remember, to see how we got to that point of uncontrolled violence,” says Christian.

“I was knocked out and some guy was standing over me and he just kicked my head in. I couldn’t see for days because my face was so swollen.” In response, Christian elected to reconnect with the world rather than deny it. “As brutal as it was, the effects were… it was a gift, in an odd sort of way.” He describes the art he’s created since as an “open window” into his life, into which “people can look and hopefully see back into themselves.”

For that reason, in addition to his affinity for bowling balls, Christian’s art emphasizes the human form, which he recreates with machined metal and carved stone. As a favorite in this genre, Christian cites “Calvary,” a wire-limbed portrait of Jesus on a metal crucifix. Another is a human head made from wine corks. Another is a self-portrait framed by human bones. With this artwork, Christian can also engage his affection for “older models,” things like dentures and false legs and eyes and human bones, which have been used up and supplanted by technology or made unusable by owner death, but which he thinks are beautiful.

The attraction of the human body, says Christian, is that “we are it. I notice more and more that [my human-shaped sculptures] are actually self-portraits. They’re trying to connect to my emotions and how I relate to the world. [A sculpture] may take a male form or a female form, its face may not look like mine. But I’m always struggling in my own mind, because I always see them as me. It’s like I can’t break away from what keeps coming through me.” — “Some people,” Christian says, “find my work macabre or dark. I like playing with that idea, of what is dark or light. What do they see that I don’t see and what is that a reflection of? What is that mystery? And that happens at night, when you walk through that door.”

For more information about the House of Balls, go to http://www.houseofballs.com, call 612-332-3992, or e-mail HouseofBalls@aol.com. Most of the gallery’s sculptures are for sale, and a price list is available upon request.

— P.S., in Rochester Magazine & Simply Minnesota, 2005

Written by patiomensch

March 2, 2007 at 2:55 pm

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