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EM 15 Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf | Venice Biennale

To be invited to show is always a privilege. Quad had previously realized a large work of mine so I knew they understood the intensity that surrounds how I work (re: my requirement to be involved in the complete process of the making and installation of the work and the necessity to adjust elements during the making). In my collaboration with EM 15 I appreciated enormously the patient acceptance of my methods and the tolerance shown towards this demanding approach. An example of this was the importance for me to choose a fabricator with whom I knew I could collaborate. My stepping outside the fabrication method used to create the other holes caused problems, all of which were dealt with, but this regrettably brought on more work for the team in general. No-one complained.

It was wonderful to meet all the other people involved in such an incredible place as Venice with so much laughter and so many meetings and chance connections with others every day. At times it is easy to feel isolated as an artist and also difficult to manage the amount of labour and stress related to trying to realize works and exhibit them at a large scale. It’s easy to lose the point; especially as that point tends, in my case, to hold within it an esoteric idea that art in itself allows deep thought, drawing out an opening up of thought processes themselves. Meeting and sharing with others from the world of creativity is an important process – a leveller and re-balancing of registers.

With regards to the realization of the total project, it must have been a huge challenge for the conglomerate of galleries to find the means to make this project happen, and an incredible amount of work, goodwill and commitment was given by all. Many people were involved and the initiative was aspirational, opening up new discourses through diversity, finding and questioning ways of working together and establishing new audiences. I am particularly happy that a local audience in Venice has been visiting the exhibition.

The theme of global capitalism and diversity for the whole biennale worked brilliantly with the mini-golf show.

As a maker my works are not cost effective and take an excessive amount of effort and time to define and to create. Matters are further complicated with regard to payment to artists, or others in the creative sector in general, in that funding packages treat artists in a different way to all the other workers involved. Artists, if they are paid at all, are often offered a fixed sum, which does not take into account the actual labour involved. For some the work has a light touch and is achieved in a few days; for others the work develops over a number of months, yet the fee remains the same.

Usually I struggle to make ends meet whilst making works. EM 15 negotiated a contract with me that accepted this specific problem in a very affirmative/kind/sympathetic manner. This acknowledged the amount of labour required to make my particular mini-golf work. Everyone supported my proposal to realize the sculpture throughout, making many concessions to my hands-on approach, rather than the more straightforward and cost effective process of providing a drawing to a fabricator.

I would like to muse upon a question of ethics since this has been raised even with regard to taking part in the show. I believe each individual lives by their own ethical code, and that no single individual operates without values, even if those values seem to be insane to me or you. The value systems we hold to are necessarily full of dichotomies and culled from diverse historical and ethnic origins. Which part of life can we make ethical? Perhaps we should not travel? Not bank? Not use technologies? Not realise the internet itself is poisoning our planet? How can we not accept that the whole structure of western society was built on the subjugation of millions of people, and still is?

We can make small individual gestures, quietly, privately; we can try to raise awareness on specific points (drops that dissolve into the ocean). At least they can help us deal with frustration at our own apparent powerlessness. We can hope that we do not to become self-righteous about our own efforts.

The question of freewill looms over these choices. We are, I believe, driven to act by forces not within our control; people are compelled to make unethical choices for many reasons. Some of these are to do with basic survival – both bodily and mentally. It is complex. I know I am stating the obvious. It is impossible to live a truly untainted ethical life. The tangle of history and origins, of systems and laws, make it impossible to liberate yourself from crimes against humanity (our banking and economic systems) and nature (our travelling, energy and commodity hungry society). Yet this does not mean that we should not attempt it, or not look for large answers.

Perhaps I romanticise the importance of art in shifting consciousness into an awareness of Being itself, thereby making a move towards reflexivity, an ability to step outside of one's own prejudices and desires and see them as inherited habits; to foster an awareness of temporality, and an ability to move into duration (the non-human moments outside of rational thought); into affect, and its truth. So to reiterate, I hope good art can allow the mind itself a level of reflexivity at a conceptual level, not only at the level of content. Could this change things?

More and more the micro level of ethics draws me. In my own work for EM 15 there is a tangle of historical events, a Royal Naval sea captain is trying to liberate African slaves in the Indian Ocean – in the process many are killed by the slavers. Those that are rescued often die of illness or despair. The captain also saves a Muslim Princess from death by stoning. This ultimately affects the history of colonialism in East Africa. How does an individual impact on the whole of time? At what level are we free to choose our actions? Try as we might, our benevolent acts will not always lead to benevolent outcomes, yet every moment of every life potentially matters.
 
So after this manifesto of mine, let’s play mini-golf, and think about the mercantile city of Venice, playground of the super-wealthy and art collectors, and ponder on the unfurling dichotomies in the madness of the world we live in, looking for causes and answers.

Thank you for a chance to think these things through and make a work about it.