Jono Sandilands: The Art of Ping Pong

13 Nov 2012 in Shetland, Showcase, Visual Arts & Crafts

Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale, Shetland, 7-11 November 2012

THE WORDS ‘interactive art’ can provoke an involuntary shudder among some gallery goers, including this one.

VISIONS of cringe-inducing installations aimed at ‘engaging young people’ usually send me running for the car park. Thankfully, Shetland artist Jono Sandilands’ show, The Art of Ping Pong, at the islands’ Bonhoga Gallery, is quite a different thing: an interactive work that is clever, innovative and, dare I say it, fun.

Art of Ping Pong

Art of Ping Pong (photo Jono Sandilands)

Inside the exhibition room is what looks at first like an ordinary ping pong table: dark green on top, a little battered, with a short net across the middle. A bright light shines down on it from above, while the room itself is only dimly lit. Beside the table, a selection of bats lies together with a glass jar full of the familiar white, plastic balls. So far, so inviting.

But it is only when the visitor picks up a bat and begins to play – as they inevitably do – that the work truly comes to life.

By the wonders of technology that I do not even begin to understand – according to the exhibition blurb it includes a ‘hacked Xbox Kinect’ and a projector – the game that ensues is transformed, instantaneously and almost miraculously, into an image.

Each time the ball bounces, a mark appears on the table. Depending on the setting chosen for that particular game it may be a simply black dot, brightly coloured blocks or circles, paint splashes or even words (‘ping’ and ‘pong’, naturally). These are projected downwards, showing the point of contact, and as the game progresses the pattern becomes more elaborate, more colourful and more beautiful.

Art of Ping Pong

Art of Ping Pong (photo Jono Sandilands)

The effect this has on players is immediate. What would otherwise be a competitive game becomes instead a cooperative, creative effort, with the ping pong table acting as a shared canvas.  All thoughts of winners and losers are abandoned; the image is everything.

What this work records, of course, is not just a random pattern of shapes and colours, it is the points of connection between one player and another. What would otherwise be forgotten or barely noticed – the fleeting and intricate movement back and forth – is captured by the technology and memorialised. To play is to become enthralled by this process.

At the end of a game the players are offered a printout. Instead of the usual scorecard, this a visual record of the game – a kind of shared creation – and a selection of these pictures are strung across one wall of the gallery.

Jono Sandilands’ The Art of Ping Pong is a success. It is innovative, engaging and feels almost magical. Using interactive technology, the artist turns a seemingly simple activity into something astonishing and beautiful. Far from running for the car park I was tempted to go back for another game.

© Malachy Tallack, 2012


Jono Sandilands