Designed as the final hole of Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf, Life Raft – a scale map of the UK floating in the adjacent canal – offers a safe haven to immigrant golf balls that can make the treacherous crossing.
Harrison was invited to take part in Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf towards the end of 2014, when she was undertaking her Department for Business, Innovation & Skills residency at Funen Art Academy in Denmark. The project was being produced by EM15 – a consortium of arts venues based in the East Midlands (New Art Exchange, QUAD, One Thoresby Street and Beacon Art Project) and would be presented as a ‘collateral event’ of the 56th Venice Biennale in Italy (9 May – 26 July 2015).
As a graduate of Nottingham Trent University and a former Nottingham resident (1998 – 2008), Harrison was invited to be one of the nine artists commissioned to design a crazy golf hole as part of artist Doug Fishbone’s project, including: John Akomfrah, Yara El-Sherbini, Doug Fishbone, Ellie Harrison, Candice Jacobs, Hetain Patel, Lindsay Seers, Yinka Shonibare and Eyal & Ines Weizman (from Forensic Architecture).
Harrison felt conflicted about taking part in the project, given the vast amount of public money which was being spent on an exhibition primarily for the global artworld elite. But her ego got the better of her, and she came up with a simple idea for the final hole of the course, which would reflect much of her current research into the impacts of climate change on our society. Life Raft took inspiration from the floating weather map used on ITV’s This Morning in the ’80s and ’90s, via artist John O’Shea, who Harrison collaborated with on The Other Forecast project in 2013. In a typically playful way, Harrison’s work aimed to hint towards a somewhat darker time in the future, when the continued rise in global temperatures creates a vast number of ‘climate refugees’ desperate to escape to more temperate climes.
By the time the work was manufactured and installed at the Arsenale Docks in Venice for the opening in May 2015, the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean had escalated. Record numbers of people had lost their lives attempting to sail to Europe and the work took on much darker tone. Harrison refused to play on the golf hole herself, and instead observed from a safe distance the artworld elite, such as Will Gompertz (above) and Tim Marlow (below), taking a shot. Much like her 2012 installation The Redistribution for Wealth (which featured four small dance platforms installed in Tate Britain) the arts audience came part of the art – in this case symbols of a detached hedonistic elite desperate to get their kicks despite stark inequalities and suffering elsewhere in the world – quite a grotesque spectacle.
Harrison was so disturbed by the experience of taking part in the Venice Biennale that she wrote a scathing (self-)critique of the project Venice Biennale: Think Local, Act Global! which developed into the proposal for The Glasgow Effect in 2016 (and is also described on p.129 of her 2019 book). Harrison’s described the ‘Think Local, Act Global’ mentality as the ‘opposite of what we of what we need to do to address climate change’ (the inverse of Patrick Geddes famous slogan ‘Think Global, Act Local’ from 1915). It was ‘a petty and small-minded attitude which sucks money and opportunities away from local communities by shipping slick art artworks (and high-profile artists) to global exhibitions in glamorous and inaccessible parts of the world’. She was therefore heartened to hear that the when returning from Venice, Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf would make a comprehensive tour of arts venues in those local communities for the next two years: New Art Exchange in Nottingham (2 April 2016 – 19 June 2016), QUAD in Derby (2 July – 4 September 2016) and York Art Gallery (2 June – 3 September 2017).
Whilst in Venice, the work was featured on BBC News at Six (above) and in Dazed Digital where Harrison, somewhat ironically, was voted one of the “top artists at this year’s Venice Biennale”. The tour the reviewed in The Guardian and Nottingham Evening Post. In March 2017 Harrison discussed the ideas behind the work in detail and how her thoughts had evolved as a result of Brexit in an interview for the ArtFund website. After the tour ended, in the spirit of the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle your art’ mantra from her Early Warning Signs project, Harrison took ownership of the work (when all the other golf holes, except Doug Fishbone’s were destroyed). She included it as a standalone work in the group exhibition Rising for Art Licks Weekend in London (29 September – 1 October 2017) and, alongside her 2011 installation A Brief History of Privatisation, it featured in the Sculpture Placement Group’s ‘Stored Sculpture Inventory’ as part of the Sculpture Showroom exhibition at Glasgow International (20 April – 7 May 2018). Both works are now in storage awaiting ‘adoption’.
6 May 2015: Tim Marlow using Life Raft at Venice Biennale
Ellie Harrison, Facebook