I was already a little familiar with Doug Fishbone from his last major project. Hosted by Dulwich Picture Gallery earlier this year, Made in China saw the artist choose a painting from the famed collection of Old-Masters. A copy of the painting (which remained a secret to all but Fishbone) was then commissioned from one of the many workshops which operate in Dafen, a village in Southern China, producing several million replicas of paintings a year. The copy was hung in the gallery in its original frame, and visitors and staff alike (myself being one of them) were challenged to guess the identity of the fake. The project forced us all to re-engage with the entire collection and confronted preconceived notions regarding authorship and perceptions of authenticity.
Fishbone’s rather tongue-in-cheek approach was visible in Made in China, and is visible in his project at the 2015 Venice Biennale, Leisure Land Golf, where he examines ideas surrounding tourism and consumption. Hosted within the inaugural EM15 Biennale pavilion is Fishbone’s fully-playable crazy golf course, designed in collaboration between himself and nine other artists around the idea of the Leisure Principle. This idea is expressed more simply as the absolute need to indulge and gratify tourists. In this, there is little room for considerations other than the absolute satisfaction and entertainment of these consumers.
I am drawn to Doug Fishbone’s own hole on the golf course, as it explores the ineptitudes of leadership and authority. Fishbone has chosen to theme his hole, titled S.O.S., around the tragedy of the Costa Concordia cruise ship which hit a reef off the coast of Tuscany in 2012. The captain was held largely responsible for the wreck, having diverged from the route, and then abandoned his passengers after impact. He was charged of manslaughter earlier this year, and faces sixteen years in prison. To my mind, the themes of abandonment and disillusionment with leadership reflect those in the story of the Raft of the Medusa. Immortalised by Géricault, the naval ship sank almost 200 years ago in 1816, as a result of its incompetent captain who was appointed purely for diplomatic political reasons. Those who did not die immediately reverted to cannibalism in order to survive.
The breakdown of authority when crisis strikes is a central theme of both Géricault’s and Fishbone’s works. S.O.S. also sits precariously close to the edge of the dock in the EM15 pavilion; one mis-timed swing could see the ball end up in the water. This, perhaps, serves as a reminder of the fragility of the notion behind the Leisure Principle. Just as the notion of the Leisure Principle masks deeper issues concerning the fetishes of consumerism, Leisure Land Golf, using a popular and well-recognised motif of seaside holidays, poses serious questions regarding globalisation and consumer capitalism.