Jono Sandilands is a designer and visual artist based in Shetland. Here, he explains the conception, process, exhibition, and future of his project, The Art of Ping Pong which was recently exhibited at Bonhoga Gallery.

The Art Of Ping Pong

The Art of Ping Pong started life back in 2009 in response to a student brief set by YCN Annual Student Design Awards. At that time the concept was simple: to record where the ball makes contact with the table during a game of table tennis and allow players to be interactive in creating original pieces of artwork. The concept was commended and won an YCN national student award.

That same year, I started a Graphic Design placement with Shetland Arts Development Agency. Shetland Arts is the leading arts agency in Shetland and promotes a year round programme of music, craft, theatre, literature, visual arts, dance and film events; the agency also runs Mareel, the UK’s most northerly music, cinema, and creative industries centre, the Garrison Theatre, and Bonhoga Gallery. 2009 passed quickly and I soon found myself in 2010 having to thinking about what I was going to do when my placement came to an end. This is when I decided to revisit The Art of Ping Pong. I knew I would have to secure funding to take the concept further, so I started looking for sources and filling in application forms.

The Art of Ping Pong

In 2010 I secured a Visual Artist Award from Shetland Arts in partnership with Creative Scotland and the Shetland Islands Council. This would allow me to develop the concept into a reality by allowing me to purchase some equipment and expand my skills in programming software and hardware.

When my placement came to an end I was met with an unexpected surprise: Shetland Arts wanted to keep me on in full time employment, and I gladly accepted. However, this changed my Ping Pong plans slightly as, obviously, the amount of time I had to work on the project would be significantly less than I was bargaining for.

Art Of Ping Pong Rough Setup

By this time I had started blogging on The Art of Ping Pong with the aim of creating a record of the research and testing I had been working on. I started with some very basic tests on how to track the ball. Some of my initial ideas included colour tracking and sound tracking, and using multiple microphones under the table to pinpoint the sound and location of a ball bounce. I found that there was quite a lot to get my head around and I didn’t have nearly enough time in the day dedicated to thinking it through, and consequently things were taking longer to progress than I had expected. But on reflection this was not necessarily a bad thing…

The project took a big leap forward at the start of 2012 when a friend mentioned that Xbox Kinect could be a useful tool and was already being experimented with for projects similar to The Art of Ping Pong. The Kinect has a depth sensor, alongside video camera and microphone, so the possibilities seemed very exciting for my project.

Art Of Ping Pong Rough Setup

I used the Kinect by taking the data the device provides in its normal functions and translating this, using a code I created myself, into a display of graphics.

The Kinect is fundamental to how the project actually works. So now when I look back at the extended period of time I’ve spent working on this project, I find it interesting to note how quickly things can change. It will be interesting to see where we are in 3 years time.

Art Of Ping Pong Rough Setup

The run up to the exhibition was a pretty hectic time for me: working full time alongside managing a separate project isn’t easy! I dedicated lots of my nights and weekends to the project, and also took some holidays in order to complete it. I took over my parents’ garage with a (rough around the edges) set up of the exhibition – all of this with lots of help from my Dad, including lots of games of ping pong!

The exhibition was set up very quickly at Bonhoga Gallery with some tinkering time for added extras to make things run more smoothly, and as the doors opened for the preview night, I was ready to play!

Opening Night Bonhoga Gallery

Art Of Ping Pong Game Artwork

The opening night had demos on the table by Shetland Table Tennis club and also music by a local DJ. The vibe was great and I really enjoyed myself, and the feedback I got was that others really enjoyed the exhibition too.

Art of Ping Pong Artwork

The question on everyone’s lips was “What happens to the table now?” The honest answer is: I don’t know.  But I do have a few ideas for more events here in Shetland but also further afield, I would like to hear from anyone interested in having an Art of Ping Pong event anywhere, from galleries, to clubs, bars, halls, group events, and anything else at all. You can contact me to find out more.

Art of Ping Pong Game Artwork

Where to find out more:
Website | Blog | Twitter


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