21 February 2016
The Guardian

How crazy do you like your crazy golf to be? If you fancy hitting your ball into the open mouth of a squatting man and watching it drop out of his grass-covered behind, it might be time to book a trip to Nottingham. From April, Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf, which was first shown at the Venice Biennale 2015, is opening in the city, combining a playable round of mini-golf with some surprisingly hard-hitting art.

Fishbone invited 10 artists to contribute, exploring some of the darker sides of the leisure industry through a game associated with family holidays. “It always struck me that mini golf would be a great form for artwork – because it’s three-dimensional and interactive, but normally, the courses are very conservative; there will be a windmill and a dolphin; nothing too artistically challenging.”

Fishbone says most of his repeat customers in Venice were neighbourhood kids, who kept coming back. “It’s a way of showing political art in a way that’s not too heavy-handed.”

But that’s not to say the art itself is not serious; Fishbone’s contribution is a model of the stricken cruise ship the Costa Concordia, a symbol of capitalism, workers’ rights, and, he says, “mismanagement and environmental blindness”. Another sculpture by John Akomfrah forces you to putt into the face of a kneeling figure wearing a hoodie – an obstacle inspired by the deaths of African Americans killed by the police in the US.

Turner prize-nominated Yinka Shonibare’s contribution is a mushroom cloud of footballs covered in African textiles to highlight how soccer and economics can collide. For some light relief, there is Hetain Patel’s squatting man. “I grew up playing crazy golf, it’s one of those activities that is accessible and working class,” explains the Nottingham-trained artist.

“My putting hole is partly about my own background as a British Indian, and the displacement of something from east to west. I use this squatting posture in a lot of my work, because in India, rather than China, for instance, it’s a position associated with the working class. Lots of my family in Bolton still sit like this, so for me it’s a connection.

“He’s covered in grass to blend in to the surroundings, something immigrants try to do. And the posture is also a tongue-in-cheek nod to the theme of importing and exporting … you have to hit the ball on to the conveyor belt and then kneel down and turn the handle to winch it up to his mouth and pass it out.”

And for those who just can’t get enough mini golf, there is the chance to try out Eyal and Ines Weizman’s unsolvable puzzle. Based on the maths problem the Seven bridges of Königsberg, the putting hole should keep you busy for eternity, says Fishbone. “If you follow the instructions, you will be there indefinitely.”

Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf is at the New Art Exchange, 1 April to 19 June, nae.org.uk.

Homa Khaleeli