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Prudence and the Game of Golf

Abigail O'Brien - 2017

RHA Ashford Gallery 17 November – 20 December

Opening on Thursday 16 November, 6 – 8pm

This November, the RHA presents Abigail O’Brien RHA, Prudence and the Game of Golf in the RHA Ashford Gallery, a photographic, sculpture and sound installation.

Having completed Fortitude, The Collector, 2005 and Temperance, Oatfield Sweet Factory, 2009, Prudence is the third body of work in O’Briens series, The Temporal (Cardinal) Virtues, which are Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence, and Justice.

The word ‘virtue’ is derived from the Latin word Vir meaning mankind; male and female. It should be noted that Homer wrote almost exclusively about mighty men, great wars, adventures and encounters with monsters and today we would include women in similar terms. Virtues are guidelines and codes of conduct. The Temporal (Cardinal) Virtues are a treatise in dualism and every virtue has its vice. What today constitutes a virtue? How are these virtues transformed or perhaps sublimated into an acceptable form? Who today are the virtuous?

Talk to an experienced golfer and you will hear that every swing ought to marry fine calculation and firm execution. There are so many things to calculate — club, distance, lie, hazards, not to mention the art of the swing mechanism itself. It would seem that if a person has hit a golf ball correctly a thousand times, she should be able to duplicate this performance at will. But this is not the case. Very often too much calculation can render the player unable to execute any shot well. There is an expression, ‘Know what is in your bag’, in other words what shots you are capable of and attempt only those. At least once in a round of golf you could be faced with wild heroism or a more prudent course management.

Prudence is about enjoying oneself as much as suffering as little as possible, while still taking into account the constraints and uncertainties of reality; it’s about enjoying and suffering intelligently. Prudence is a virtue only when it is in service of honourable ends, otherwise it amounts to shrewdness, thoughtlessness and negligence. Prudence is a virtue of the mind.

Golf is an intellectual game which involves a considerable amount of strategy and thought. It leaves time for contemplation and favours a sense of observation and imagination. As in life, you are up against yourself all the time. In his book The Inner Game of Golf, W. Timothy Gallwey states: “It is a break from the routines and patterns of daily life that can truly enrich our existence. What players learn about themselves on the course can be transferred to every aspect of their lives and can thus benefit the culture of which golf is only a small part.”