The Turner Prize is one of the most controversial contemporary art competitions around and has caused more than one disbelieving gasp from the public in recent years (everyone remember the year an unmade bed with stained sheets won?). This year’s Turner Prize exhibition is now on at the Tate Britain featuring the work of the four nominees – Paul Noble, Luke Fowler, Elizabeth Price and Spartacus Chetwynd – and with the winner being announced on the 3rd December, it’s time to make your own mind up about the four artists.
Paul Noble uses graphic pencil and paper to create intricate drawings centred around an individual word, which is always the first thing he draws. You see his drawings twice; first from further away, as a whole, you see the world he’s created, and then, when you get closer, you see how that world is made up of the smallest detailed drawings of different objects. A 10-year-old girl staring intently at one of Noble’s pieces in front of me put it into words perfectly when she turned to her Father and said: “It’s quite amazing!”
Filmmaker Luke Fowler’s piece, entitled All Divided Selves, explores the ideas and legacy of psychiatrist RD Laing who challenged the psychiatric orthodoxy of his time. The film is made up of clips of psychiatric sessions between orthodox practitioners and their patients, and Laing’s ‘radical’ equivalents. At 93 minutes long you have to be committed to watch the whole thing and arrive in time for one of the scheduled showings or miss the beginning. And although All Divided Selves is worth the time, the fact that you constantly have people coming in, sitting down for five minutes, and then standing up to leave again, kind of ruins the experience.
Elizabeth Price is also a filmmaker but at 20 minutes long her The Woolworths Choir of 1979 is much more manageable. Named after the Manchester branch of Woolworths that was burned down in 1979, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 has a fragmented feel to it at first with images and words only appearing for a few seconds but gradually the film becomes more cohesive. The same rules apply for this film but I found the layout this time made it much easier to enjoy the film instead of getting distracted by other members of the audience.
The work of Spartacus Chetwynd is perhaps the most unusual of all four nominations and uses interactive performance to draw the viewer into the art. With many different routes for the viewer to take each individual has a different experience and is encouraged and persuaded to make decisions based on varying performances in the different areas. Of all the four pieces this is the one that draws you in the most, even more so than the films, but again, it is very dependent on catching the performances at the right time.
In addition to the four exhibitions there’s also an area half way through the exhibition, which has the artist’s biographies and videos of them discussing their work. This is gives you a unique insight into the mind of the artists as well as a deeper understanding of the exhibitions but it’s advisable to skip it and go back at the end because it can spoil the exhibitions you haven’t seen yet.
Overall, judging the work of this year’s four Turner Prize nominees is an enjoyable way to waste an afternoon in London, but the size of the exhibition and inevitable crowds means it’s hard to really sink your teeth into. This is an art exhibition, cut into manageable chunks, for those who have very little interest in art.
Turner Prize 2012 is now on at the Tate Britain until the 6th January 2012. For more information click here.