SEA games carnival ping pong table copying artist’s work

From ‘Quirky ping pong table at SEA games carnival resembles work by Singaporean artist’, 6 June 2015 article by Mayo Martin, CNA.

A circular ping pong table at the South-east Asia Games Carnival for children at Sports Hub which bears a striking resemblance to a famous artwork by a Singaporean artist has prompted criticism online.

Cultural Medallion recipient Lee Wen has said he was unaware of it of the table at the Sports Hub. His own interactive artwork, titled Ping Pong Go-Round, has the same circular features, which allow for multiple players. Variations of it have been shown in different exhibitions and fairs such as his solo retrospective in 2012 and last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong. Most recently, it was part of an exhibition of Singapore artists at the ArtScience Museum.

…“I’m trying to find out who’s in charge and talk to them to ask them to stop exhibiting until they settle with me,” he added. “It’s good that they picked up the idea but it’s as if they didn’t think it has been done before. I think they should at least talk to me. I’m thinking of asking for some compensation in terms of artists rights because according to one lawyer I’ve talked to, it’s probably an infringement of copyright.

…The ping pong table in question, called 300° Table Tennis, carries the logo of Atos, a French technology firm appointed by the organising committee to manage the information technology for the Singapore games.

While it forms a “C” and Lee’s work is a complete circle, the latter said his artwork could easily be manipulated and rejigged so that users could enter the central space.

Lawyer George Huang was quoted by the ST (‘Horseshoe shaped ping pong table by SEA games organiser similar to artwork by artist Lee Wen, 5 June 2015’) as saying that Lee’s ping pong table is ‘very simple’ and it’s possible for anyone to come up with the same design independently. Well, everything is obvious on hindsight, George.

According to IPOS, ‘artistic works‘ may be protected under copyright law, but the ‘idea or concept’ of the sport of table tennis isn’t. So what happens when the worlds of art and sport collide and you have an exhibit that’s viewed as ‘artwork’ in a museum, but can also easily pass off as a fancy variation of a traditional game at a sports carnival? If I’m an artist and I put up a ‘performance’ involving a badminton racket with a chapteh instead of a shuttlecock, do I have a case if someone makes it an actual Olympic sport? What if I put people in ridiculous sumo suits and make them play touch rugby? Or captain’s ball. On trampolines?

Ping Pong Go Round isn’t JUST about bouncing balls to one another, of course. The artist himself uses the analogy of a ‘dialogue‘ between players on opposite sides, like a circular conference table. In other reviews, it’s described as a re-invention of the game in the context of ‘contemporary possibilities’. Meaning, instead of playing against one person you could easily switch to another, or play against both simultaneously. There’s not much room to manouevre if you’re in the inner hole with other players, though. So much for ‘broader dialogue’. I could add some crazy rules to the standard gameplay and make it a new sport, or work of art, if I want to. Like playing across 2 table-lengths, playing with two balls simultaneously or you’re only allowed to hit the ball with your batting arm behind and around your back.

Still, It’s a refreshing change from what we usually associate with ‘performance art’, which incidentally was once banned by the NAC in 1994 after someone snipped his pubic hair in public. Lee Wen himself is famous for his ‘Yellow Man’ work as an emphasis on his Chinese ethnicity, where he painted himself yellow from head to toe and described it as ‘wearing a full body mask’, a possible inspiration for the phenomenon known as ‘zentai’ today.

To the layman participating in this ‘interactive artwork’, it’s just crazy ping pong joined in a circle, and probably as fun and innovative as other insane sports mash-ups like roller-frisbee, hockey-golf, basket-polo or bubble-soccer. You’re not going to get inspirations on how to improve your next meeting with the bosses. But hey, ART man.

UPDATE (13 June 15): Sport Singapore acknowledged Lee’s work and has made a goodwill payment, hence resolving the issue amicably.

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