Ping-pong, the Singaporean artist Lee Wen writes, “is like a dialogue between players on opposite sides.” Indeed, many parts of play have conversational homologues. You feel your counterpart out, trade salvos and repartees. You establish a rhythm. Ping-pong may not be the most friendly of conversations but the connection is there.
There are, of course, many different kinds of conversations, some more adversarial than others. Wen’s “Ping-Pong Go Round,” an installation first shown in 1998 and that has been making the rounds of art festivals and museums since 2012, reshapes the traditional Ping-Pong table to mimic that hallmark of productive conversations: the conference table. One might also say it looks like a doughnut. The artist writes: “By making it a doughnut round shape with no borders towards the left and right side, a different perception of the limitations of the preceding game gives new possibilities of a broader dialogue.”
This talk of the possibilities of dialogue may be lofty, but all spaces for dialogue are designed. Online forums, for instance, are engineered to encourage certain kinds of dialogue. (Whether they get it right is an entirely different question.) Similarly, Riot Games uses a restricted chat mode to ensure that anger in League of Legends doesn’t reach toxic levels. Conversations can be moulded, shaped, and constrained. That is just what “Ping-Pong Go Round” does: it joins players at a table and changes the angles at which they come at one another and the ways they see each other. This may or may not produce better sport, but it surely creates interesting dialogue.