Wiffle hurling is the first sport conceived of as a work of art by what would soon become the Institute for Aesthletics. In 2005, I had, what was then, a random idea to play hurling, a very dangerous yet exciting Irish sport, with wiffle ball bats. Wiffle ball is a toy baseball set made out of plastic and is an iconic symbol of backyard America. We happened to have around fourteen Wiffle bats in our country house due to constantly losing the ball, which you can only replace by buying the ball and bat set. In hurling, everyone has a large flat wooden bat called a hurley with which they smash a leather, baseball-like ball, the sliotar, towards a rugby goal. Replacing the hurleys with plastic bats seemed like a great way to play the game without "losing one's teeth", which is what was said would happen to me when I asked if I joined the college hurling club when living in Dublin.
In my efforts to convince anyone to play this new game, I realized I had to make an event out of it. I designed and purchased uniforms, borrowed Super 8 cameras, bought a ton of 8mm film, and made it a centerpiece of a weekend outing, with post game party to boot. It quickly dawned on me while planning the event, that more than just organizing a game, I was making a performance. Every choice I was making had an aesthetic implication, from the style of uniforms, to the style of play, to the choice of documentation, to who was actually going to play the game. There seemed to be some artistic potential in this type of sport organization.
After a couple of practices, and some kinks worked out, the game was ready to be played. On game day, people excitedly put on their uniforms and created team names, the Green Hornets for the team dressed in red, and the Red Devils for the team dressed in green. Very clever. I started out as referee with Super 8 camera in hand (and a black eye received during the first practice matching my outfit). As soon as the whistle blew, it was clear the game was going to be a good one; competition was fierce from the start. Players immediately got into the game, shoving and pushing each other for the ball, scoring goals, and constantly criticizing the referee's decisions. It was a success. After a close match,the Green Hornets won by a goal. More importantly, the unanimous decision was that wiffle hurling was actually fun to play. People soon started asking me when the next game would take place. I organized several more throughout the next year with new and returning players alike. With a more refined game, I started to understand what I was unconsciously creating: a throw back to my days playing sports in middle and high school.
I always loved sports and played constantly; however there were no delusions as to my future with any of the sports I participated in- i.e. I was not going to the NBA, and there was no pressure to derive anything from these activities. Furthermore, the small arts focused private school I attended cared little for sports, and though we were quite decent against the other small private schools dotted around New York City, nobody noticed. We operated in a vacuum, where we could play without expectation, and thus without any of the bullshit battle, glory and honor metaphors attached to playing sports for some sort of community. Of course the games were competitive and we loved to win, however we equally loved the bus rides to and fro, wearing the uniforms, and the inherent camaraderie one feels on a team. With Wiffle hurling, I wanted to convey this type of sport experience. A sport where everyone played competitively, but at the end of the day, didn't really give a shit about who won or lost, because at that end of they day they would be at a bar somewhere (or in high school, drinking a forty on a stoop). This was an atmosphere I found lacking in sports after high school. Whether playing intramural touch football in college against fraternities or the psychotic Type A Business schoolers, or joining basketball leagues in New York City full of competitive and whining middle aged men, I lost interest in organized sport activity. Wiffle hurling was my way back; back to completive play, but with an emphasis on the social and creative rather than just the contest. Not only that, it opened a path for further investigations into using sport to be expressive, and to create engaging social experiences.
The rules of Wiffle Hurling can be downloaded here. Its quite a fun game (unlike many of the Institute's other sports). If you were to organize an event, however, please wear a uniform, preferably one with a hat. There is nothing worse than competitive sports played without ridiculous attire. Just ask the NBA.