This year’s Turner Prize competition will be announced at Tate Britain following the Channel 4 News from 7:45pm this evening. The nominees this year are Duncan Campbell, James Richards, Ciara Phillips and Tris Vonna-Michell, shortlisted for Britain’s most coveted contemporary art prize. They four artists employ audio, video, craft and design however this year, for the first time traditional painters and sculptors have been left off the shortlist. Tate Britain’s Lizzie Carey-Thomas said the shortlist was “more accessible” than in past years. “It’s not art about art, it’s art about the world and other subjects everybody has experience of and can relate to,” she said as the nominees were announced earlier this year. Duncan Campbell is currently the bookies favourite to win the prize this year.
The nominees are:
James Richards, a Cardiff-born artist’s works appear to be a middling attempt at the former. The 31 year-old – the youngest of a notably young shortlist – deals with eroticism and censorship in his ‘Rosebud’, initially shown at the 2013 Venice Biennale. This atmospheric video collage incorporates images from Man Ray and Robert Mapplethorpe, found in books from a Tokyo library, with the erogenous zones scratched out, at the same time cut with eerie shots of flowers. Less successful are Richards’ other two works: ‘Untitled Merchandise (Lovers and Dealers)’ (2007) makes oblique reference to AIDS victims through six knitted banners, while ‘The Screens’ (2013) is a bizarre decision: a slideshow of people applying fake wound makeup.
Tris Vonna-Mitchell at least provides a refreshing presence. The Essex-born spoken-word performance artist weaves mesmeric quasi-autobiographical stories, full of repetition and free association. Chosen for Vonna-Mitchell’s 2013 solo exhibition ‘Postscript II (Berlin)’ in Brussels, it tells of a dizzying trip to Berlin in search of his father’s past, with the aid of dual projections. His second piece, the more compelling ‘Finding Chopin: dans l’Essex’ (2014), unravels the artist’s whimsical journey in search of French concrete poet Henri Chopin. “Van Gogh says to Theo in one of his letters: I want to paint solitude,” Vonna-Mitchell intones, on one of his many impassioned spiels, in the vein of the Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz’s aural work in 2010. Lightboxes filled with images of cream eggs and stationary round of this ritualistic oeuvre pleasingly.
Ciara Phillips is the only nominee to not use any film in her work, instead presenting a brightly-lit room full of colourful abstract prints: blood reds, verdant greens, azure blues, and slithers of brown. Known for her often site-specific works, there are also slogans proclaiming “Ciara, be industrious!”, a giant “OK”, and a robotic voice reading out a list of words. Taking on a Scottish inflection when saying “unity” and “united” is a nice touch, but riff on mechanical reproduction says nothing new. Phillips organises an artist’s collective in Glasgow, inviting local communities to help her work, but while it might make her a good artist, that does not render her screen prints into good art.
Duncan Campbell ‘It For Others’ (2013) is perhaps the most accomplished offering, which is in no small part indebted to French filmmaker Chris Marker’s ‘Statues Also Die’ (1953), about the commercialisation of African art. Campbell explains his search for what Beckett worded as “a form that accommodates the mess”, while self-reflexively reminding us that documentary is fiction. It is slow-paced yet methodical, and deals with the age-old – and still unsolved – topic of how the meanings of objects are manipulated. Perhaps the examples of Marx’s Theory of Value and commodification of are IRA volunteer death are dense and borderline academic, but the means are justified by Campbell’s dry wit and penetrating conclusions. Those who complain of the film’s lengthy 54-minute run time would do well to remember Mark Wallinger’s ‘Sleeper’, an 154-minute film of the artist strolling around in a bear suit, which won in 2007.
This year’s Turner prize is by no means a crowd pleaser, and and certain pieces are sheer hard work. And although we can generate discussion about contemporary art developments it seems to stay within the confines of set structure of power, in this case the insiders of the art world. But then exclusivity is what helps to maintain those structures firmly in place.
The Turner prize will be presented by the Oscar nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor who said: ‘I am delighted and honoured to be presenting this year’s Turner Prize. For thirty years this prestigious award has represented, in its winners and nominees alike, extraordinary artistic endeavour that has delighted, challenged and inspired fellow artists and lovers of art across the globe.’
The Turner Prize 2014 exhibition runs until 4 January 2015 at Tate Britain. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony, broadcast live on Channel 4 tonight 1 December 2014 from 7:45 pm.