Philobiblon: A multidisciplinary world

Monday, December 06, 2004

A multidisciplinary world

Since I was at the Tate Britain on Saturday I thought I might as well check out the Turner Prize exhibition; coincidentally the winner will be announced tonight.

I was pleasantly surprised. I thought three of the four artists nominated were really worth exploring, which is not a bad average. But what I was taken by was the way that each of those three is an artist-slash-something.

Jeremy Deller is an artist/activist - he puts up and photographs memorials to people he thinks deserves to be remembered - eg an Australian cyclist killed in London (close to the bone that one for me), protesters killed in the miners' strike, etc; and organises big public events with a strongly political edge.

Kultug Ataman is an artist/documentary makers - his main work showing here is films of six people from the far east of Turkey - Arabs from a community that believes very strongly in reincarnation, which is what they talk about.

Langlands and Bell are artists/architects, and there work here focused on Afghanistan after the war - particularly the omnipresence of NGOs (and their acronyms), a videogame-style exploration of "Osama's house", and a film you can't see on legal advice "because of an ongoing trial at the Old Bailey". (You can't get much more "relevant" than that.)

You might have noticed no women yet - and as is far from unusual there are none; the "token" position would appear to be filled by a black artist, Yinka Shonibare, whose work - at least displayed here (and the judging is on the artist's entire body of work, not just this show - and I don't claim to be an expert so fans please don't start flaming me!) - just doesn't have the same intellectual content. A literal reconstruction of Fragonard's "The Swing" just made me go yeah? and a wall covered with circles of fabric ditto.

But the first three artists, it seems to me, are in their different ways confronting and perhaps beating Baudrillard's claim for the triumph of the hyperreal - by situating their work very firmly in the physical nature of the everyday they are insisting on its existence - their art is not just a simulation depicting simulation.

For what it is worth, which is almost nothing, were I betting I think I'd go for Langlands and Bell. Personally I preferred Deller, but I suspect their topicality will prove irresistible to the judges.

The other thing that was very impressive yesterday was the viewers - the place ws packed, and the average age 30 or even younger - this is art that is speaking to its audience. (Over with Gwen John, however, the average age would have been closer to 60, and very "middle-class regular gallery-goer".)

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