Wednesday, November 28, 2007

np - My second review - published

14 years ago I started art college and visited my first Turner Prize. Since then I have visited each and every year and of course, I have scrawled, doodled and drawn a cartoon in a note pad or sketchbook..

To mark the European Capital of Culture, Liverpool welcomes the Turner Prize. The short-listed artists are Zarina Bhimji, Nathan Coley, Mike Nelson and Mark Wallinger, the exhibition opened at the Tate Liverpool on the 19th October 2007 and runs until the 13th January with the winner being announced on the 3rd December.

Each year the Turner throws up some controversy, some years attract more column inches than others but in general this show polarizes us as artists and art lovers. Regardless, it never fails to stimulate debate with the ‘pro’ camp proclaiming it as one of the most important and prestigious awards for the visual arts in Europe, and the ‘anti’ camp; the Stuckists, the K Foundation and as the tabloid press would have it, the general public, all queue up to berate it as a waste of time and money.

So what’s topical this year? How about ‘Sleeper’, an epic (4 hours of footage) film of the artist Mark Wall¬inger dressed in a bear suit walking around the Neue Nationalgalerie at night. He walks, runs and stumbles like a sketch from Dom Joly’s Trigger Happy TV. This art act / performance is, and is intended to be, humorous however Wallinger’s work is always carefully considered in terms of answering national identity, social and political lines of enquiry. We think about Berlin, the Cold War hub of surveillance and espionage and a hot bed of political nationalism. We think about spies, sleepers in disguise and the bear, a national heraldic impe¬rialist symbol, running around lost and forlorn.

Mike Nelson re-visits a fictional narrative called ‘Amnesiac shrine’ in this installation piece, which isn’t what we have come to expect of Nelson. He usually makes space and fills it with found objects and clut¬ter, dust, chipboard and awkward spaces have made up previous environments. In this space we are sent in circles around a number of corridors and chambers that are minimalistic, identical and opposite - a white walled maze. Under-lying this is the fictional narrative dreamt up by the artist, a story of a Gulf War band of bikers. As you walk around the corridors you are invited to peer in through punched out holes in the walls, you see sand and lights like the desert environment of either the Gulf or a bikers Mid-Western American dream.

Zarina Bhimji’s exhibit consists of a series of photographs and a film. Zarina was born in Uganda, her work is deeply connected with East Africa, Zanzibar and India. The artist immersed herself in two years research into political policy, social economics and colonialism. She traveled the length and breadth of the Uganda railway, stopping at each station to record testimony of the locals and a sound track that features here in the mesmerizing film ‘Waiting.’ The film looks at a factory manufacturing rope from a natural material called sisal. The film uses soft focus and slow panning shots of the process. The photos that accompany the film are of walls and architecture, they feature as recurring themes and reflect a more violent nature in the societies depicted in the work.

Nathan Coley’s installation or sculpture, ‘there will be no miracles here’ is the only time a single piece has been nominated for the prize. It is a large fairground style illuminated sign on scaffolding, a French Royal decree made in the 17th century. Cole uses it to divide the room, here we cannot have miracles, over there it is fine. Cole’s exhibit is about boundaries and designation. As you enter and leave the room you are forced to crossover an artwork (threshold sculpture) and gallery staff tell the public to ‘mind the artwork.’. Nathan employs other pieces to strengthen these ideas, a model of a generic English house is emblazoned with the words Hope & Glory and photographs of confessional boxes are framed and then covered by a rect¬angle of black spray paint which denies the image underneath.

So there it is, two installations, photographs and two films, not a painting or bronze in sight, no plinths and no canvas. A brainy Turner Prize, concerned less with aesthetics, more with social existences - again this show will divide us as artists. I’d like to offer this, the 15th ‘Liverpool’ edition cartoon. Visit the exhibition, if not for the Turner Prize then for Tate Liverpool and if not for that, then for Liverpool 2008 European City of Culture.

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