Having a Ball at Hayden-Harnett

To celebrate the upcoming U.S. Open, Hayden-Harnett designers Toni Hacker and Ben Harnett have enlisted a young Brooklyn-based artist to transform their Nolita boutique into a world of playthings and sports with an installation that...


Furniture made out of balls—where did this idea come from? In my last semester at Cornell University, I’d gone to a house party where they filled the room with those children’s balls. They were a foot-and-a-half deep. It was really nostalgic and fun. As an adult in that situation, I wanted to recreate that but obviously I don’t have space in my apartment for a ball-pit. So I made that into a singular object, a piece of furniture. I started out making small models first from gumballs I bought at Walmart.

How did you segue into using tennis balls? Well, the plastic play-pit balls are expensive. And I was at a friend’s house and there were a lot of extra tennis balls around. I found out that, once a can is open, they start losing their pressure. There’s a limited lifespan of how long a ball is going to have its optimal bounce. So I figured I could use something that was free or significantly reduced in price.

Do you play? I’m not good! I’m not quick enough. But I like to watch. I prefer Nadal over Federer. I like watching Serena Williams; I like women’s tennis more because there tends to be more rallies.

How many tennis balls go into a chair? It’s 550 balls for the completely solid version. That’s about 75 pounds.

Tell me about the installation at Hayden-Harnett. It’ll be a mixture of the tennis balls with the play-pit balls. The challenge was to create an installation that was relevant to the current work I’m doing but also to that of Hayden-Harnett. There are going to be purses that are suspended [from the ceiling]. And the different furniture objects will look like they’re spilling out of the purses. I didn’t want it to be just a chair on a platform.

I’ve read that you do a lot of food-centric projects as well. I do dinner parties. The most famous one, in college, was called “Smooth.” I wanted people to focus on the taste of food but make everything else a constant. We puréed all the food, had the guests wear all white and arranged them in chairs, facing the wall, around the perimeter of the room. We tied their hands behind their back and fed them through this device, which looked like a snorkel with a funnel attached. So you focus on the taste of what you’re eating. I also did an ergonomic chair made out of bread.

What kind of bread? Focaccia. But the base was wood. The rest of it, what would normally be upholstered, was bread.

What’s next for you? I definitely want to return to the food, but right now the balls are taking over. My next series uses the wooden beads used in those taxi driver seat cushions.