If you hear the pitter-patter of ping-pong, chances are you’re in the company of Alex Mustonen and Daniel Arsham, a duo the game seems to follow wherever they go. You may know the artists better as Snarkitecture—their collaborative practice of equal parts art and architecture—but to some, namely members of their pickup table tennis league, they are better known for prowess with a paddle. In 2011, Snarkitecture designed the set for Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s last performance, where pixel-clouds of ping pong balls were afloat above dancers. In Why Patterns, a collaboration with choreographer Jonah Bokaer, 10,000 ping pong balls flooded the stage, and adjacent to their studio, Arsham’s own apartment is wallpapered with the balls—25,000 of them, to be exact. Most recently, Snarkitecture designed a pair of custom paddles for an NYC tournament with Grey Area, and now available on Artsy, you’ll find Slice, their all-black ping-pong table, awaiting its next match. But why ping-pong? Mustonen takes a break to fill us in.
Artsy: We hear Snarkitecture plays in a table tennis league. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Alex Mustonen: It's not actually a league (yet), but more of an informal tournament that we've been hosting at the studio for a while—we try to have it every month or two. It's mostly people from the studio, friends and artists and designers from the neighborhood. We are working on starting a league if any artists or design/architecture practices are interested...
Artsy: What do you get out of playing ping-pong—do you find it is part of your creative process, perhaps where you can bounce ideas back and forth? At Artsy, and a lot of start-ups for that matter, ping-pong has become a staple. Can you talk about possible reasons for this?
AM: On the most basic level, playing ping-pong is fun—it's a break from working or sitting at the computer and also encourages interaction and discussion. Our ping pong table in the studio is also the main conference table where we review projects, have design meetings, eat lunch, etc.—it's a bit like the hearth of the studio where everyone gathers.
Artsy: This is not the first time ping-pong has played a role in your work. Can you talk about some of these past projects, and is there is a reason the game makes such a frequent appearance?
AM: We're very interested in the idea of play and architecture. I think ping-pong keeps resurfacing for us because it fits our practice in a number of ways—Snarkitecture as a collaborative practice (the back-and-forth exchange of ideas), the unpredictability of a bouncing ping-pong ball, the white sphere as an object that is both familiar and unexpected. Even the favicon of our website is a GIF of an endless game of pong—an impossible search like The Hunting of the Snark.
Artsy: Can you tell us more about the table, and the process and materials you used to create it? For example, why you chose the paper-based material, Richlite?
AM: For Slice, we started with the idea of material—in this case the play between an incredibly hard surface (Richlite) and flexible rubber, both of which share an absolute black quality. The Richlite is appealing as a beautiful, durable material that also happens to be eco-friendly. We have an all-white table in the studio and have to play with an orange ball for visibility, so on a certain level the black table was about wanting to create a monochromatic environment to play in. The table explores the idea of a topographic form concealed below a rectilinear top, except that the landscape here is literally sliced into individual layers that are spaced to create an opaque density from one side and a transparent lightness from the other.
Artsy: The table is called Slice. What role does humor play in your work?
AM: We like to play games.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory