Amongst Common Interest and Other Sanctuaries/Empires, 2020



Install view at Stryx, Birmingham / 2020

[Steel bended tube, curtains with cutouts and rug]

This work is unfinished and will be continued later in 2021 in a residency at Birmingham School of Art.


            The first record of goldfish date to 10th century China as golden mutations of carp. The golden carp were not eaten and selectively bred into breeds of fantail goldfish. Goldfish are invasive and pretty much will eat anything in sight, so all other fish in the pond die from starvation, or breed to make more goldfish and contribute to the booming population of undesirable and tasteless food. I think this is kind of interesting in relation to what parasites do in terms of feeding off the host or environment until it is eventually depleted. Kinda rings true when artists, I'm talking about past experiences anyway, do residencies and the institution is asking everything from the artist, and actually the artist receives very little in return. The institution is the parasite.
But artists can be parasites too! Take all you can from the institution, ask for more money, say no, take their pens with you, ask for more workshop access, ask for more time.

Then tell everyone about it so they do it, and then we are overpopulating the host with more parasites. The goldfish did this. Eventually goldfish were overpopulating natural waterways in China and had to be selectively fished to control the species. They were given to Buddhist monks as gifts in acts of self-purification, where the monks kept and fed them in mercy ponds, fang sheng, where the goldfish lived up to 40 years and formed part of trade negotiations with Japan in the late 16th century. The goldfish arrived in The Netherlands the following century as pets and living ornaments for aquaria and foundations via Macao, coming to England in the mid 1700s. Keeping a goldfish was exclusive to the aristocracy, showing large financial autonomy to travel across the world and requiring gardens to house the goldfish ponds.


Towards the later part of the 17th century, goldfish ponds had been installed in public gardens in London and by the 1880, the goldfish had reached America and were commonly given away as prizes at fairgrounds in plastic bags, losing their mystique and exoticism along the way. The US government even gave goldfish away. In a publicity stunt, from 1884 to 1894. Residents of Baltimore and Washington, D.C, could write to their congressman in support and the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries [today the National Marine Fisheries Service] would send you goldfish. Some 20,000 were given away each year before the program was discontinued.

I decided to make work about goldfish when reading book on garden brickwork from 1971. There’s a short chapter about building fishponds and on the first page of that chapter is the best picture of anything I’ve ever seen.
The last sentence in the book reads: “The graveyard feeling is caused by an unsuccessful submersion. Like when you go fishing under water; there, too, you dive into a new element, the water. If you leave the water without having caught a fish you feel a chill, you get a cold, whereas after a successful catch you are content and get the impression that the water warms your spirit. But if you are not a practical person and have never had the inclination, or the time, to work with your hands or to learn new skills, turn to page 88. There you will find a list of addresses of various organisations that will put you in touch with good, local draughtsmen and builders.”






Mark