ping pong everywhere all at once
I paint ping pong to explore ways to depict the struggle for language fluency in a constant experience of code switching. Various actions within the sport become symbolic of specific processes in language fluency as I work with visual similarities between the movements in ping pong and the operations within grasping a language.
The back-and-forth motion of a ping pong game reflects the operations of code switching – wherein an individual moves between different languages, dialects, or vernaculars, therefore also moving between the languages’ respective cultures, values, and realities. My work explores identity in a suggestive way, using doubling and multiplying the number of figures and limbs in the scenes I paint to reference the plurality of selves, creating works that imply constant movement with a lack of center. I am interested in the phenomenology of embodying plural identities at the same time, and how to express this experience through the metaphors of sport and displacement.
My work oscillates between focusing on the figurative and the landscape, lightly referencing Magical Realist and Absurdist painting due to my curious visual subject matter of displacing a ping pong game. I displace the earnestness, dynamism, and competition of the sport, setting these scenes in wilderness and empty flat abstracted spaces. I am taking these values out of the sport arena and into alternative environments to present a game that shouldn’t be there and will never end.
This body of work is a continued visual study on language fluency and the dynamics of conversation through painting ping pong, the sport.
Ping pong in the clearing 1
Ping pong in the clearing 2
Ping pong in the clearing 1 and 2, as the titles describe, set the ping pong game in a clearing of a lush forest. The energy of the game is somehow befitting of the landscape and yet the game itself is wildly out of place. Two figures play against each other, although with no ball in sight, their efforts are apparent in their outstretched and energetic limbs. In Be the ball, the point of view changes as the composition is now suggesting a high angled gaze down at a single ping pong player in the forest. The viewer embodies what could be the ball, sailing over the head of the player and back toward the wilderness behind her. In these paintings, parts of the figures are duplicated, echoing themselves to suggest captured movement, but also to signify the mimicry and repetition that occurs both in sport and in language.
Be the ball
Coming in hot !
Coming in hot features two figures in a game of ping pong in what looks to be another forest clearing, this time with bright orange grass and a blazing red sky. Ping pong balls fly toward the bottom right corner of the painting, depicted in a progression – echoing movement – much like that of the repeating limbs in the previous paintings.
Almost didn’t see it coming
Put some spin into it
Almost didn’t see it coming and Put some spin into it, situates the ping pong game and players specifically in relation to the ball, which takes up a large part of each painting. In these paintings, I focus on the player’s strain to reach the ball, which looks closer in proximity to (us) the viewer than to the figures within the painting. These games are set in a flat semi- abstract space, composed of bright green grass and deep orange skies.
It’s a shame someone has to lose this game
The crowd is going wild
In It’s a shame someone has to lose this game, the two ping pong players are each doubled, and the surrounding landscape is blurred. I consider the speed and ephemerality of sport, the urgency and intensity that comes with the desire to win. In The crowd is going wild, the multiplicity of figures and hands creates a more fervent scene. The game is now set against what looks to be a creamsicle colored sky, removing the game from a recognizable setting entirely. There is an awareness of foreground, middle ground, background despite the spacelessness of the surroundings. In this painting in particular, I am interested in the point of view in sport, either from the perspective of a player or what we can and cannot see from the crowd at a game.
I had started to paint the ping pong games in a jungle - partly because the wilderness really displaces the idea of sport(funny since competition literally began in the wild).
I was interested in creating a spectacle of sport, to convey motion and momentum and excitement. The initial reason for the repeating limbs and balls was dynamism and motion capture - but later I started to see these visual echoes as symbolic of echoing in speech. I thought about how in active listening, you tend to repeat at least some of what you hear in order to respond to it - and while learning to talk and learning a language, you mimick and repeat things over and over (rote learning) in order to acquire fluency. Same thing in ping pong, you drill the same movements over and over to train agility and instinct.
So I kept playing with repetition over and over and these multiple limbs began to read as multiple figures presenting uniformity which then led the paintings to look as if multiples of a single person were playing ping pong against themselves. So the metaphor became complex - it is now something of an internalized conflict. It is about a single individual playing the game.
(And honestly the uniformity wasn't a conscious choice at first, I was thinking about genericness more so than homogeny. But now I'm glad I impulsively/subconsciously did that.)
Because that - then leads me to think about the back and forth also to a deeper degree ︎︎︎ so if the doubling of the limbs and figures are starting to represent a plurality of selves(in a single individual), then I started to see this ping pong match that was initially just about conversation as code switching.
To inform that from a more personal level, I was born and raised in middle America - specifically and mostly Ohio - to Chinese immigrant parents. And this also kinda informs my focus on displacement- being Chinese in the American Midwest. I grew up with the general experience of speaking chinese at home or around my family and then speaking english when I’m at school or in public. But the languages were not exclusive to those spaces and situations; there are many instances where I am navigating both languages at the same time in the same single place. But also, I might use those languages differently depending on who I am with and where I am.
I’m thinking not only about switching between different languages but also different social codes and vernacular and attitudes. So for me, flipping between all of these different codes on the day to day, from casual english to MFA critique vernacular, to shy mandarin with a classmate to very slang english with my roommates to cantonese with my mom. All in a day, everyday, a constant ping pong game. A different me hitting the ball, over and over, trying to keep all the conversations going.
Another thing: when beginning a painting, I started thinking about the point of view when we watch sports. Specifically, how static and framed the perspective is. As an audience, you are usually stationary and watching the sport in front of you or you would have stationary angles from watching on tv, maybe with a few panning shots following a player or the ball. So I wanted to paint a scene from the point of view of the ball, from the middle of the field (table), directly behind a player, as a player, or any alternative point of view you might be able to have of sport within the sport.
Since these paintings are technically about something internal and maybe even psychological at this point, I thought that putting the ping pong game in a legible or recognizable environment would be a little misleading. So I decided to alter the reality within the paintings(barely a jungle at this point) in a very direct way, I painted the grass orange and the sky red. [coming in hot! as a turning point in the body of work].
And then I kept flattening the space more and more - simplifying and abstracting the environment almost. Which then brought both the figure and the ping pong equipment forward into focus a bit more. I think this makes me notice the possible emotional undertones that the player can have - the stakes of the game - and the precariousness of the game. I thought about the inertia of an athlete’s body toward the ball, how they must keep ball in play to keep the game going. (which is also very similar to the survival drive of socially adapting and speaking a certain way depending on where you are: code switching).
So sports and communicating and trying to be understood are all just a combination of intense labor and play. This body of work(thesis and additional oil work) has been my continued exploration into this idea through painting.