Q&A with Leisure Land Golf artist Ellie Harrison

1. What's the inspiration behind the hole you’ve created for Leisure Land Golf?

When I came up with the idea for Life Raft at the end of 2014, I was projecting towards a 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. What I didn’t realise then, was how quickly this apocalyptic vision would become a reality.

By the time we showed the work at Venice, there were already hundreds of tragic stories of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe from the Middle East and Africa. Although these people are largely fleeing war in Syria, Naomi Klein points out in Let them Drown that wars are only ever fought over the control of resources, and when these become scarce, tension escalates. Climate catastrophe is already unfolding before our very eyes.

2. As both an artist and activist, how do you reflect your beliefs through your work?

All my work is driven by an environmental conscience and our need to drastically reduce our resource use and carbon emissions in order to preserve a climate on earth where our species can continue to survive.

When I was studying for my MFA, I began to notice the massive contradictions inherent in continuing a ‘career’ as an artist, making ‘frivolous’ works of art, given the urgency of the situation we are in. I made a few key decisions about how to proceed.

Firstly, I wrote an environmental policy and published it on my website, laying the foundations on which all my activity would be built. Then, I decided to re-channel as much of my egotistical energy as possible (nurtured through years of art school education), into direct political campaigning instead. Specifically for the public ownership of our key carbon intensive services and infrastructure with Bring Back British Rail and Power For The People, which present huge barriers to encouraging more sustainable behaviour and meeting our carbon reduction targets in their current privatised form.

And, finally, I decided that if I was going to continue making art at all, then at least it should aim to raise awareness of these issues and inspire people with hope that we do have the power to address them.

3. How do you think Brexit will affect the interpretation of Life Raft?

The events of 2016 just go to show how quickly our world’s political climate can change. We didn’t even know we were having a Referendum at the start of the year, and by the end, we were preparing to leave the European Union and tightening all our borders. It’s like a slowly unfolding disaster movie, as if our species is not able to learn anything from the horrors of the 20th century. Brexit definitely intensifies Life Raft’s power, just as the refugee crisis did before it.

4. Visitors are able to play the course; what connection can they make to your piece?

Like the Leisure Land Golf piece as a whole, Life Raft makes use of humour. In this case, it is used as a point of access to discussing serious issues. If anything, I hope the piece will enable people to reflect on their own privilege as British Citizens (if indeed they are), historically and in the future.

As global temperatures continue to rise, Britain, because it is an island surrounded by water, is likely to maintain a more habitable climate. Surely then, we have a responsibility to people from other places who are not so fortunate?

To be able to see and play Life Raft in York Art Gallery's garden this summer, please donate to our Art Happens campaign.

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