Somerset, NJ 3.2008

Bosch on Ice is a new sport derived from Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The Garden of Delights. Players compete as characters from the three paneled painting as Earth descends from the Garden of Eden into the fiery depths of hell. The inspiration for Bosch on Ice is in third panel of the triptych, Hell, where Bosch has painted several ice skaters tormented by several particularly sadistic creatures. Apparently, in Renaissance Flanders, our now innocuous past time was an offense punishable by eternal damnation, along with gambling, fornication, and even playing music.

This may be the first visual depiction of ice skating in history, and if I were more of a scholar I would have actually looked into this, but let’s just say that its a very early representation of the sport. One hundred years later, Bosch’s successor Pieter Bruegal also painted games in his work; one of his masterpieces, Hunters in the Snow has both ice skaters and curlers in the background. This time, however, they are happily playing, and will clearly not go to hell for their leisure activities. So what was Bosch’s thinking? Was ice skating widely considered a sin in the Middle Ages? Or did Bosch, as many believe, belong to a fairly insanely strict section of Christianity? Regardless, the desire to turn his masterwork into an ice sport just seemed like the right thing to do. As well, with three panels and three periods of ice hockey, well, it just made sense.

The game’s basic structure is ice hockey, but it has several key differences. The main one is that there are groups of players based on characters in the painting. These groups have different abilities, much like the Nintendo Classic Ice Hockey, where there were three types of players, fat, medium, and skinny, each with their advantages and disadvantages. Bosch on Ice is a bit more complicated: Bird characters may kick the ball but may not throw it. Human characters have hockey sticks and behave like normal ice hockey players. Land animals do not have sticks, but may kick or throw the ball. Sea animals must lie on their stomachs. Instead of a puck, the game uses three Sepak Takraw balls, and there are no goalies.

The game started out as a complete mess. Many of the players put on the wrong costumes, creating animals not guided by the original ruleset, for example a half bird/half fish. Play was intense and colorful in the first period, and since many players stopped following the guidelines early, a new but similar game emerged. In the second period, I had asked the local chapter of the Post Neo Absurdists to run a performance during the game, representing the orgiastic cadre of naked people on horseback in the middle panel. They certainly succeeded in channeling this spirit, so much so that the game devolved into weird fits of competition amidst a growing performative chaos in the center of the ice rink. By the end of the period, all of the players had transformed themselves into performers and were wandering the ice engaging in quite bizarre actions.

The third period, Hell, was the most serene, and the most competitive. The Post Neos were supposed to come onto the ice immediately, but after the actions of the second period I had them hold off for a bit so a game could come into being before the inevitable disruption. Wearing the new Hell costumes of monsters and tortured humans, the players got into playing a fairly conventional game of ice hockey, sans skates, and Pato the ref sported a dominatrix outfit that he had brought (definitely not in the original painting). The Post Neos made their entrance five minutes before the end, and led the players in a last frenzy of chaos before the final horn sounded. Soon after, the Somerset ice rink returned back to the normal suburban icehockey center that it still is, and Bosch’s characters disappeared back into the large laundry sacks they were brought in. Maybe to be animated again sometime...