Turner Prize 2012, Tate Britain

Right, with two days to go before this year’s Turner Prize winner is announced, I just thought I’d write a short piece on likes, dislikes and speculations on this year’s shortlist.

Paul Noble presents a series of large, pencil drawings which represent a fictional place called Nobson Newtown, made up of Escheresque constructions inserted in a barren natural landscape, with the enigmatic word TREV planted here and there. I take pleasure in losing myself in the infinite detail and in his work’s intricacy (which gives these drawings a vague similarity to Bosch’s paintings), but as I step forward for a closer look, I realise there’s a certain laziness in the actual execution of his work. The more I look at his work and the more it slowly starts to remind me of a schoolboy’s notebook: an admirable imagination which results in a series of chaotic drawings.  There’s definitely something interesting going on in Noble’s work, although I’m not quite sure what it is.

Luke Fowler’s ninety minute film, All Divided Selves, is an in-depth look into the life and thoughts of famous psychiatrist RD Laing. The main subject of this documentary-like project is schizophrenia and the experience within the mind. Luckily I’m just in time to catch the last screening of the day. Already as I step into the purposely designed screening room, I get a feeling of home and intimacy. A few people sit around me, all is dark and silent as we wait and, before the film even begins, I feel as though it’s starting to speak to me, as an individual. Archive footage of interviews from the 1960s and poetic fragments from the artist’s own work are entwined together to create a portrait of Laing and his studies. Luke Fowler’s films are characterised by a beautiful use of colour and light, adding to the simplicity of his footage, which is made up mostly of brief scenes and images of everyday life. His filming is down to earth and humane, as we catch glimpses into other people’s lives, their homes, the Scottish countryside. The soundtrack is made up of delicate music and cut off conversations with certain words repeating like a mantra throughout the film: LIFE, DEATH, REALITY. Some scenes may seem irrelevant, but then again, this isn’t meant to be a documentary. In fact, if anything I wish this work were less documentative, and made up solely of fleeting moments of time. There’s a fair amount of black and white footage included throughout the film, but I struggle to find a logic to this distinction.

With a running time of ninety minutes, All Divided Selves may at times be described as boring, but in the way that great art can and sometimes should be. In contrast to a lot of contemporary art, Luke Fowler’s work makes you think, seriously think. RD Laing said the aim of psychiatry is to defend the real against the false, and as I hear this, I can’t help but create a connection between psychiatry and art. I get the feeling that Luke Fowler isn’t trying to win the Turner Prize, but is simply doing what he feels comfortable doing, and in the artist’s own words, it’s “about understanding the world around us”. Maybe that’s what art should truly be about, and not pretending you understand so much more about life than Everyman. I think if Fowler does win this year’s Turner Prize it will signify a change in the contemporary art world, and how critics have conceived it over the past decades.

Elizabeth Price is another video artist so I find it inevitable to draw a comparison between her piece and Luke Fowler’s film. Her twenty minute video is more of a sensorial experience, as she combines various styles of black and white footage with photographs, text, and sound. In The Woolworth’s Choir of 1979, she creates a loose story fabricated from different, unrelated elements, beginning with an analysis of the word “choir”. This etymological analysis sets the auditorium for an event: the Woolsworth fire which took place in Manchester in 1979, described on-screen by a “chorus”, using a succession of text, images and sounds. Rhythm seems to be the key in this piece. Her video demonstrates an in-depth research, the combination of images and sound effects is well studied, the timing painstakingly accurate and it’s fascinating to see how these elements relate to one another, but I’m unsure as to what the actual content is and, especially towards the end, her film gives the impression that music is the main focus. Price’s work is about experience, as it plays with the senses and searches for immediate reactions. The Woolworth’s Choir of 1979 is certainly more hypnotising and absorbing than Fowler’s work, but it demands a lot less thought from the audience’s part.

I didn’t get a chance to see Spartacus Chetwynd’s work that day, but I’m going to say if I were to bet money, my money would be on her – for the sole reason that she is a woman with a beard and she is the first performance artist to be shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

What actually got me thinking more than any of the four artists, was the pin board at the end of the show on which visitors could express their thoughts regarding the exhibition. (Sure enough, one of these notes did say “Is this part of the show?”.) Disgust, anger, indifference seem to be the main sentiments toward this year’s Turner Prize selection, all encompassed by a shared feeling of scepticism. It seems that a third of the visitors are rooting for Paul Nobel, another third think it’s all just a load of shite, and the remaining third have been put off from commenting altogether.

Luke Fowler, All Divided Selves

Luke Fowler, All Divided Selves

The Turner Prize exhibition is on at Tate Britain until January 6th 2013



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