Turner Prize 2012

Controversial psychiatrists, misericords, an almost OCD approach to drawing something that doesn't actually exist, and an oft-bearded female puppeteer gets biblical: this year's Turner Prize nominees deliver a variegated collection of impressively well-informed work which should contain something to satisfy everyone. At Tate Britain.

This listing is in the past.

It's a well worn story that brevity is the soul of wit, but given the limitations of a review, these musings on works nominated for the 2012 Turner Prize will also need to function duplicitously as a conduit for precision reportage. So let's get to it.

I'm informed as I arrive at Tate Britain that Spartacus Chetwynd, nominated for Odd Man Out, 2011, is about to perform, and am ushered into her semi-tribal, semi-anarchic-squat theatrical arena. Here, an ensemble of seemingly (a crucial point) untrained thespians peform a ritualistic invocation, calling forth a miniature and ludicrously makeshift puppet oracle from beyond the boundary of the performance space. Observers are then entreated to commune with this clairvoyant marionette, who prophecies on our intended trajectories ("At the end of the day, you're always alone!" was mine. Very telling). This is followed in a separate, darkened space by another display of puppetry, The Parable of Barrabas, the Biblical narrative of mercy shown to a thief and not to Christ. Both of these works parody or critique religious zeal, or the extent to which people are cajoled into accepting a doctrine. 

As evidenced from this selection, Chetwynd's practice near-seamlessly juxtaposes a plethora of very disparate imagery and source material gleaned from extensive research, and somehow forces them to submit to her aesthetic proclivities, forging in the process this weird carnivalesque masquerade performed by a troupe of friends. She uses objects and gestures which deliberately appear naïve, in order to subvert the expectation that contemporary art should be polished and clinical. As engaging and endearing as it is multi-faceted, Chetwynd's work will no doubt be a favourite with the public.

This favouritism should ideally extend of the work of Elizabeth Price. I was perhaps least enthused about Price's contribution from the description; however, having now seen it (The Woolworths Choir of 1979, 2012), I'm happy to admit that my initial misgivings were completely unfounded. Implementing a photo-montage approach to the visual material she manipulates, Price initially deceives the viewer, positing documention of ecclesiastical architecture as this project's raison d'être. As the volume of images pertaining to church carvings escalates, we become more accutely aware of the finger-clicks and hand-claps, emulating the mechanical strains of a camera. These intensify, and vocal flourishes are introduced, all culminating in footage of a Shangri-Las' performance of their single Out in the Streets (1965). This high-octane live show parallels the intensity and grim energy espoused by the third installment in this work, which features eye-witness accounts and forensic analysis from an infamous fire which devastated a Manchester Woolworths in 1979.

Each of these discordant vignettes are stitched together by a number of commonalities. For example, the association of the architectural quire/choir in churches with the vocal benefaction of The Shangri Las leads into the histrionics of those trapped during the Woolworths incident; in another instance, hand gestures executed by secular effigies are then replicated by the pop group and the observers of the fire. In so doing, Price offers an unwritten chapter, or a footnote to an accepted history. She strikes a near prodigious balance between humour and poignancy: the nuanced segue from one into other via a gradual, dream-like collision of visual fragments is almost imperceptible. Price's work will definitely be a contender.

These works alone make a visit to Tate Britain well worth the Tube fare, and, while the contributions of Paul Noble and Luke Fowler aren't as compelling, they're certainly not without merit. Noble presents us with a compilation of drawn and sculptural pieces from his Nobson Newtown series, created between 1996 and 2012. He uses his own and friends' names as the starting points for his large scale drawings of architectural spaces set amidst the stylised, rocky backdrop of a barren and alien terrain. Noble views these works as a series of excruciatingly detailed miniatures, with even the large scale pieces constructed from several smaller sheets. The information is subject to Cavalier Projection, a technique which abolishes fore-, midddle- and background, so that everything exists simultaneously close and far away. The most affecting aspect of Noble's works is the series derived from Trev, a deceased friend. These three images chart the changes experienced by plant life in a greenhouse over the course of sixteen years, and allude to the stages of grief and eventual acceptance resulting from the the death of a close comrade.

Luke Fowler's All Divided Selves (2011) re-examines the legacy and procedures of controversial Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Through extensively editing and grafting a bewildering amount of archival material, and interspersing it with his own cinematic marginalia, he crafts a profile which attempts to demythologise the subject and provide an alternative reading for various actions. This work is presented in a specially-constructed screening room, the aim of which is to provide an ideal in-gallery environment for moving-image artworks. The space outside the theatre is complemented by the inclusion of a number of Fowler's intimate photographic studies, which provide an insight into an integral element of his practice, and also, rather disarmingly, his life outside of being an artist.

I've already gone way beyond the limits of this review, although there is much more to say about these Turner Prize contenders. Your best bet is to go and formulate your own opinion, but, given the diversity of work on display, it's safe to assume that you won't be disappointed.

Discover the work of the four artists shortlisted for the UK’s most prestigious contemporary art award. The Turner Prize returns to Tate Britain after a hugely popular exhibition at Gateshead’s BALTIC gallery in 2011.

The £25,000 Turner Prize is presented to an artist under 50, living, working or born in Britain for an outstanding exhibition in the previous 12 months. The winner will be announced on Monday 3 December 2012 during a live broadcast by Channel 4.

Spartacus Chetwynd

Nominated for her solo exhibition at Sadie Coles HQ, London. Combining a broad spectrum of historical and cultural sources, Chetwynd makes paintings, carnivalesque performances and sculptural installations utilising handmade costumes and sets. Chetwynd confuses the boundary between performer and spectator, creating an atmosphere of joyful improvisation.

Luke Fowler

Nominated for his solo exhibition at Inverleith House, Edinburgh, which showcased his new film exploring the life and work of Scottish psychiatrist, R. D.Laing. Fowler interweaves found footage and new material into accomplished and immersive films that evoke the atmosphere of a particular era, revealing how the relationship between individuals and society changes through time.

Paul Noble

Nominated for his solo exhibition at Gagosian Gallery, London, which brought together the painstakingly detailed and engrossing drawings of the fictional metropolis Nobson Newtown. Undercutting the precise, technical drawing is a dark satirical narrative which unfolds in the micro-cosmos of these monumental works.

Elizabeth Price

Nominated for her solo exhibition at BALTIC, Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, in which she presented a trilogy of video installations. Price reanimates existing archives of imagery, texts and music to explore our complex relationship to objects and consumer culture. Her carefully sequenced films guide us through immersive virtual spaces, derived from the cultural debris of the material world.

The Turner Prize award is £40,000 with £25,000 going to the winner and £5,000 each for the other shortlisted artists. The Prize, established in 1984, is awarded to a British artist under fifty for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding 24 April 2012. It is intended to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art and is widely recognised as one of the most important and prestigious awards for the visual arts in Europe.

Work by the shortlisted artists will be shown in an exhibition at Tate Britain opening on 2 October 2012. The winner will be announced at Tate Britain on Monday 3 December 2010 during a live broadcast by Channel 4.

The members of the Turner Prize 2012 jury are:

  • Andrew Hunt, Director, Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea 

  • Heike Munder, Director, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich 

  • Michael Stanley, Director, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford 

  • Mark Sladen, Director, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen 

  • Penelope Curtis, Director, Tate Britain and Chair of the Jury

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