Susan Forsyth’s ‘Goldplay’ opens with a round of wiff-waff
Susan Forsyth’s double solo exhibition, Goldplay, opens at the Royal British Society of Sculptors’ headquarters in South Kensington tonight with a good old-fashioned game of wiff-waff… with a difference. It is a site-specific and temporally relevant show conceived with London 2012 very much in mind: so much so that the RBSS have asked Forsyth to reinstall the sporting element, Wiff-Waff VI, in July to coincide with the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
No net and no rules, but rather a slightly elongated ping-pong table gilded in 22-carat gold and centred in a room that dates from 1886; the very same decade that ping-pong, or wiff-waff, was – to paraphrase Boris – invented on the dining tables of England.
Goldplay is an exhibition in two parts: Wiff-Waff VI is a site-specific work and part of a series that sees Susan Forsyth, sculptor and graduate of Chelsea College of Arts, re-imagine Bill Beckley’s Silent Ping-Pong (1971). It complements Jacob’s Ladder II, an 8-metre high sculpture installed on the building’s façade. At 8m high, 80cm wide and 8m deep, “there is a poetry in the dimensions,” Susan says. The address is 108 Old Brompton Road.
“And Jacob’s Ladder is from the Book of Genesis. So it’s the first book of the bible where Jacob has a dream of a ladder where the angels go up and down from heaven to earth and so the aspiration of the this pointing up towards the sky is quite celebratory.”
Goldplay was conceived as a joint show to use “celebratory gold”, in a nod to the forthcoming Games. “The Royal British Society of Sculptors run a double solo show each year and I’m the first woman and the first non-fellow to be selected for this opportunity,” Susan explains, overlooking the works from the Salon Gallery. “In fact the reason that this piece is as ambitious as it is, is because I made the maquette and had no expectation of being selected. So I popped the application through the letterbox at 10 O’clock at night and I was absolutely surprised – and terrified – when they said yes, okay, you can do it.”
“I had made a gold wiff-waff table series in Lisbon and I really enjoyed the way that that light reflected on the table and the slight silliness really of a precious metal making something as base as a ping pong table.” There is also a strong visual connection between the two works – it just so happens that one is laid horizontal, and one vertical. “So the outside work is more contemplative, the grandeur of scale. The same process can be used to create a piece that’s interactive, fun and playful and I’m very interested in breaking down this slightly false barrier between participatory work where people join in and monumental sculpture.”
And join in they will. “We’ve got a tournament scheduled for the 10th March so we’re hoping as many people as possible are going to come and pitch up.” There are specially engraved wiff-waff cups to be awarded and medals for games of ‘keepie-uppie’ and ‘round-the-table.’
The exhibition is historically relevant – installed in a building that dates back to the birth of wiff-waff – and excitingly, temporally relevant too. “In 2008, Boris Johnson invited the world to come to London and play wiff-waff (you can watch the video clip of Johnson’s speech in Beijing here). Here everyone can play and everyone gets the same medal. That’s the democracy of it all. They’re all gold-coloured and everyone’s medal says Wiff-Waff Champion with the date, London 2012 on it. So the idea of an installation should be site-specific but it could also be temporally specific. This wouldn’t have worked next year.”
Wiff-Waff VI will come down in March but be reinstalled for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, to run alongside the Exhibition Road Festival that will take place nearby. “This whole area will be a sculpture hub for the Olympics,” Susan says. “So we’re hoping even more people will come and experience the thrill of getting a medal. I don’t care how old you are, if you’ve had a fun time and somebody gives you a medal it’s rather a nice feeling. It’s something that’s for all ages and no skill is required, you’ve got to be willing to have a go and take part. Ping Pong in and of itself is a very democratic game; you find it in Eton and you find it in prisons. It’s the one game that will see everywhere you go, smart hotels, youth clubs…”
Despite the nature of this blog, this UAL 2012 reporter is well and truly out of practice when it comes to sport – but accepted the challenge of a warm-up game regardless. So we can confirm that Susan’s not making it up when she says Wiff-Waff VI is fun, engaging and requires no skill whatsoever!
Jacob’s Ladder II runs from 23 February to 14 September. Wiff-Waff VI runs from 23 February to 23 March (Wed-Fri) and will be reinstalled in July.
Wiff-Waff Cup takes place 10 March (Sat 12-4pm) and Artist’s Talk 14 March (Wed 6:30-8pm). All free.
108 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3RA. See Susan Forsyth’s website for more details.
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012