Going batty for The Art of Ping Pong

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We talked to Algy Batten, about The Art of Ping Pong, a charitable project that sees some of the world’s most exciting artists using their talents to produce unique ping pong bats that are auctioned to make money for different causes. You can see more and put in a bid yourself at theartofpingpong.co.uk

Tell us a little about The Art of Ping Pong. How did the project come about?

It’s actually a very long story as it was a case of quite a few stars aligning over time.

At Fivefootsix, my old agency that I ran with my good friend Mark McConnachie, we were invited to enter a battle of the agencies ping pong tournament which, amazingly, we won!

I’ve always loved ping pong and so this tournament win inspired me to buy a table for us all at work.

Around the same time I was an early member of creative running and mentoring organization Run Dem Crew, and good friends with the founder Charlie Dark. At Run Dem Crew we met each Tuesday evening in the Nike Space in the railway arches in Shoreditch. Charlie knew I was a ping pong fan, as I’d often invite mates round to work after hours for ping pong and pizza nights, and he suggested we approach Nike to use their space for a ping pong tournament night. And the proposal, naturally, had to have an artistic twist so I suggested we had artists work on each of the four tables used for the tournament that could be auctioned off at the end of the evening. 

Sadly Nike didn’t bite. I don’t think ping pong was on their radar. So we, at Fivefootsix, decided to hold our own tournament in our building, where all the neighbouring companies could enter and get to know each other. We thought it would also be good if it raised money for BBC Children in Need, as they were a client, and that’s when the illustrative bat idea came into play!

And here we are three years later. Fivefootsix has closed, but I’m still taking The Art of Ping Pong forward.

All profits from this year’s auction will go the Alzheimer’s Society. How did you get involved with the charity?

I had heard that there was research that suggested ping pong benefitted Alzheimer’s sufferers. And so the idea to donate the profits of this year’s auction to The Alzheimer’s Society came from there. And so I approached them to get behind the idea. I like the link to this charity in particular, but it may be that I still choose different charities each year.

How do you select artists to take part?

It’s important the project is kept fresh each year, so I pick four to six key artists to start with and approach them, then I build it out from there, inviting artists that complement the mix.

This year I really enjoyed opening it up to jewellery designers and sculptors etc. It helps to keep it interesting.

What is their typical response to being asked to take part?

I’m always so grateful that almost all the artists we approach say yes. We’ve probably only had a handful of people saying no in four separate auctions.

Matt Blease created a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek bat. What made you choose him to take part?

What I like about this project is that because the canvas is a ping pong bat people think differently about their solutions than if the medium was paper. And so I think it’s good to have artists in the mix who have humour in their work, and Matt was one of those. But I never saw his solution coming, absolutely brilliant!

Studio Moross is known for its wit and eye-popping style, which is perfect for an unusual brief like this. Were you impressed with the final bat?

Again they approached it with the desire to play with the format and it’s brilliant. So much fun.

What did you think of James Joyce’s approach to the project?

It’s as if his broken smileys and clown faces were made for the shape of the ping pong bat. It’s one of my favourites from a pure graphic perspective. My girlfriend is monitoring its progress in the auction as she’s eyeing it up for our wall at home!

The Art of Ping Pong has been running for three years now, what has been the best thing about watching it grow?

There are so many enjoyable aspects. It’s great to raise money and awareness for the charities, it’s amazing to work with so many artists who I admire and it’s great to see the body of work expand. I can’t wait to have enough material to produce a book in a few year’s time!

What are your plans for the future of the project?

Good question.

Essentially, in the short term, growth and development. The bigger and better I can make the brand the more the auction part of The Art of Ping Pong can raise more money for charity and the better platform it is to showcase the talents of the artists.

But it’s still a self-run and self-funded project, so I have to be clever about how I do this, as sadly my own time and money isn’t endless.

It also needs the support of so many wonderful partners to bring it to life alongside myself. From Roll Studio who do an amazing job on the website, Colt Press who generously print the book and Fedrigoni for providing the paper to photographers, retouchers and this year 71A Gallery who have been brilliant, as were all the drink sponsors for the launch night, too.

So, firstly I may look into corporate sponsorship, as I believe it’s now a viable brand to be associated with that has a value, as well as the fact that the auction raises money for charity, too. I may also look into doing a Kickstarter to help support it.

I’m dipping my toe into doing products, but I reckon that costs as much as it makes, unless you nail it well.

And then in the future I want to look into the overall brand of ‘The Art of…’ and where I can take that.

Closing Fivefootsix has given me the opportunity to explore new ideas for The Art of Ping Pong, and for that I’m grateful. But I’ll always miss the excellent team Mark and I built there, it was special…

How much money has been raised so far?

It’s still a small project really, so far it has raised about £10k for charity over the first three auctions. This year’s auction is looking good too, it’s exciting to watch and it doesn’t end till midnight on 30th November so there’s still time for this to be the best year yet!