There is no distinction made between mini-golf and crazy-golf. Golf however, is understood as different in terms of seriousness, financial outlay, physical exertion required and potential class segregation. As Doug Fishbone importantly points out, “[mini-golf is] socially inclusive and egalitarian - more so than any ‘real’ golf course”.  Both 80-year old Grandmother and 5-year old Granddaughter who were seen competing together, seemed to back up this claim.
New Art Exchange, who place an emphasis on engaging and responding to the local community, sit on the cusp of Hyson Green, a bustling, culturally and religiously diverse area in Nottingham. The notion of temporary pop-up amusement is also customary in the area with the notorious ‘Goose Fair’, a travelling fairground with all the usual trimmings: food vans, fortune tellers, hook-a-duck.
In its previous incarnation within the East Midlands Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, ‘Leisure Land Golf’ sat at the end of the Arsenale, half-in half-out, located on the edge of a residential area, forging an alliance between Biennale attendees and local Venetian people. Local children liked playing the course so much, a petition was created suggesting it stay longer. For its reappearance in Hyson Green, the first hole of the course by Nottingham-based collective Reactor, is located outside, parallel to the main road; seemingly working to the same effect.
Accessibility is vital to the way in which ‘Leisure Land Golf’ manages to hover between functioning leisure activity and artwork. We are at first lured into the act of play with the instigation of a monetary transaction and acquisition of clubs, balls and a points card. These peripheral but important components initially divert our gaze from the topical, complex and more serious subject matters underpinning the installation. Our focus gradually shifts from competitive game-play into the examination of the golf-holes on an aesthetic level. We are faced with issues from ‘the real world’ interrupting what we believed to be our ‘leisure’ time. Now living in an era where leisure is often coined by the term ‘Escape to …’ the notion that there is a time when we engage with reality, and a time during which we can be exempt from it, is not endorsed within ‘Leisure Land Golf’.
The challenge of producing new work under a tight brief, so much so, that you must submit to the aesthetic of a mini-golf course, in turn highlights and distills each artist’s concerns. Text panels that describe the interests, political impetus or research, nevertheless appear as a jarring formality. Written in a vocabulary that puts a halt to game play and adopts a tone that ‘backs up’ or provides ‘proof’ left me yearning for something more jovial or performative, rather than the blunt outlining of the issues themselves.
The participatory nature of the installation may be considered in relation to Carsten Höller’s work, which requires the audience to decide on their position in relation to the physical work and surrounding environment. This choice underpins how the work is read, and to what extent meaning is in turn owned by each audience member. Crossing the distinct threshold between watching others play, and playing yourself, is a question of turning what is a heady experience into one that is more body-oriented.
It seems that when an artwork functions like another pre-existing structure, especially if it is fun, the question is asked: ‘but is it art?’ Taking ‘Leisure Land Golf’ within the context of Hyson Green as an example, the participatory nature of the work does appear to enable barriers to break down between local people and the gallery itself. Whilst the separation provided by a white-walled space means that when we participate, our behaviours, social interactions and relationships to our own bodies are highlighted.
‘Leisure’ is a word increasingly used by contemporary artists, a fascination that perhaps has to do with a shift that occurs when artists, at a certain moment in their careers, realise that the making of art has indeed become a reliable (and therefore more serious) form of ‘work’. Represented in parallel to ‘Leisure Land Golf’ is the project ‘Sunscreen’, initiated by artist Candice Jacobs, who uses the format of a screensaver, downloaded by audiences at home or at work, to similarly examine this question.
Fishbone made the first iteration of this kind in 2012-13 with ‘Adventureland Golf’. In the last 5 years, the format of an artist-designed mini-golf course has popped up in other locations: ‘Walker on the Green’ in 2014 at The Walker Museum; ‘Putt-Putt’ in 2013 at Turf projects, Croydon, ‘Mini Golf’ in 2013 by National Building Museum, Washington D.C. The fact many of the artists within ‘Leisure Land Golf’ have strong connections to the East Midlands region, means that there is a unique sense of embodiment between the artists, the area, and the audiences themselves.
Following suit with the fairground rides of Goose Fair, which always seem to show the history of repeated participation upon their surface, it seems that ‘Leisure Land Golf’ is slowly acquiring a similar imprint.
 Doug Fishbone’s Introduction to Leisure Land Golf’, EM15 Venice Biennale press pack, 2015.