Hosted by Tramway, Glasgow.

Turner Prize 2015 - Monolith Cocktail


With no disrespect to the artists involved in this year’s Tuner Prize, the annual contemporary art prize has always been about much more than the individuals shortlisted. Probably Europe’s most important – in column inches and media attention if nothing else – prize event, the Turner elicits a response; strikes up a conversation; stirs debate. But whether you bewail its choices or celebrate them, it offers a discourse on the state of not just modern art but culture generally. Even if it isn’t the case, the overall picture is far more nuanced than we are led to believe by its detractors, the Turner Prize has for a long time been dominated by London – either through the institutions or the city in which most nominees have chosen to base themselves. In more recent times a shift to hosting the event outside the capital has seen it travel to the Baltic in Gateshead, to an old army barracks in Derry-Londonderry, and now (and about time) to Tramway in Glasgow – as the name may suggest, previously shelter to the city’s trams, now renovated into the southside of the city’s most iconic arts venue.

 

It is to the credit of the city that the London-centric dominance of the 90s has changed and shifted northwards across the border, and now, if anything, the tendency is to feature an abundance of artists practicing in Scotland’s contemporary art hub or to pick former alumni from the celebrated and famous Glasgow School of Art (among the top ten arts institutes in the world according to recent league tables). Glasgow’s grip on the prize can’t be exaggerated, with 30% of all the nominees and five winners all formally attending the GSA; many of which have stayed in Glasgow or have produced their most iconic work there. A revitalised Glasgow, still on a roll since last year’s Commonwealth Games, certainly has a lot to offer the artist. Whilst it can’t compete economically with London, and it has its fair share of problems it is nevertheless an inviting place with cheap rents and studios.

 

But though last year’s winner was the Master of Fine Art graduate Duncan Campbell, 2015 has been unkind to Glasgow with not a single artist either formerly studying or practicing in Scotland on the shortlist. The city’s GOMA is however staging its own celebration of GSA, the Devils In The Making exhibition showing former alumni and Turner Prize winners/nominees for the entire run – including works made in Glasgow by David Shrigley, Douglass Gordon, Martin Boyce and Victoria Morton.


Turner Prize 2015 - Monolith Cocktail


Unusually a sedate affair this year, subdued and measured, the four artists taking part in this year’s prize offer a diverse range of themes, delivered in a subtle fashion using a range of mediums. By now we should, even the less ardent art fan and well wisher, have come to terms with conceptual art. That it is here to stay. The idea that art is – as vague as it sounds – anything the artist wishes it to be has been around now for a century. So we shouldn’t be surprised, just curious, by this year’s nominees. The only real discourse, if there is indeed any this year, is towards the London-based activist art group Assemble’s ‘A Showroom For Granby Workshop’. Is it design, architecture or art? Well the answer is yes to all three. Renovating a number of houses with the local community of Liverpool in a previously abandoned and ‘tinned-up’ Granby triangle of streets, the “social enterprise” is steadily redefining art activism. By bringing an area that had seen everything from a recent decline back to its more affluent heydays back to life the 18-strong collective strive to offer real design and living solutions to the housing crisis. Outlining the process and extending their project to now include the setting up of a small scale manufacturing enterprise to provide long-term economic support and training to the area, a number of tactile prototypes and objects with character are on show alongside a catalogue of various goods. Everything from the marbled fashioned rock effect hewn kitchen sink to block printed fabrics and sculptured reclaimed door handles are offered up for review and dialogue. It is a worthy cause. A social design enterprise as produced by artists, which cofounds because it doesn’t immediately fall into the conformities of art. Isn’t that what conceptual and contemporary art is? Moving beyond conventions, raising questions? At least its hands are getting dirty and fulfilling a demand for real world problems.

Turner Prize 2015 - Monolith Cocktail



On more familiar territory, Nicole Wermers series of ‘Untitled Chair’ installations and trio of ‘Sequence’ ceramic sculptures on first sight seem easier to grasp and form an opinion on. Placing a number of faux Marcel Breuer chairs, cloaked, hugged and draped by vintage fur coats, Wermers central premise of replicating the everyday act of ownership, performed in cafes and bars throughout the world, by claiming your seat with your coat seems a fleeting gesture of observation. The fact the coats are sewed to the seats permanently suggests otherwise. For one thing there is the choice of the iconic Breuer chair itself, designed by the genius student turn carpentry master of the iconic Bauhaus, which at least in theory was to offer good, comfortable utilitarian design to the masses, but in the end was priced far from reach of the average citizen – though many have copied, enervated and softened to fit all scales of income over the decades, the originals have themselves become prized art works and expensive artefacts. As for those vintage furs, well they don’t come cheap, so is this an indictment or observation on luxury and in some degrees, individualism? Is the act of personalising and ownership to be seen as an act of indulgence, a luxury we no longer can entertain, or am I digging too much now? Leaving this aside, another observational piece, and a clever one at that, is Wermer’s ceramic sculptured post it notes. I must confess it took me a while to realise what they were and that they were made from, so circumspect you could walk past them without even noticing as the blend in with the white walls of the space. Again another common but almost outmoded and outdated idiosyncratic method of social interaction – the reserve of those seeking house mates, forming a band and selling in the local community – the tear-off notices become another permanent icon and stand as curiosities from another age, despite the digitalised onslaught.

Turner Prize 2015 - Monolith Cocktail



The conspiracy theorem nerve centre of Bonnie Camplin’s ‘Patterns’ echoes the paranoia of her “artwork as research” installation. Five video screens playing Youtube streamed talking heads from – you decide – deluded individuals who are convinced of their tales of illuminati, cybernetic conspiracies and visitations from beings both alien and from other dimensions are surrounded by rows of tables filled with books (including Alan Moore’s Prometheus graphic novel series), tracts, pamphlets, and all kinds of paraphernalia relating and displayed in a congruous fashion to each other. From quantum physics to the debunked Shaman stories of Carlos Castaneda, a head-spinning, befuddled myriad of theories, knowledge and in some cases scientific research compete for your attention. Informed is good, but an information overload can be dangerous or at least lead to joining up the wrong dots. Camplin for one is sympathetic to the subjects in the videos, suggesting the possibility that they are telling the truth. Maybe they believe they’re telling the truth, but in the vacuum that is the Internet, where these conspiracies and interactions can grow unabated, where hokum and the most fantastical will be believed by someone and even turned into an industry itself, the real disempowerment and globalised homogeny that has eroded both our sense of belonging and worth, our livelihoods and communities are not controlled by Lizards, Opus Dei or the Prioy de Sion like shadowy cables but manipulated to their advantage by those in plain sight of us all: humans.


Turner Prize 2015 - Monolith Cocktail



The opening night was as you can imagine bustling with those both wishing to be seen at these kinds of events and those celebrating its inauguration. Though a respectful gaggle of the art world perused at their leisure the four nominees exhibits, it was a struggle. Especially with the choral performances composed by Janice Kerbel, whose group of tenors, sopranos and baritones performed an elaborate comedy eulogy to as series of unfortunate accidents, meted out to some clumsy individual. Performances were obviously sanctioned, and as we experienced heavily attended, though you could at least hear the aloof sometimes striking piqued shrills echoing throughout the gallery. Kerbel’s ‘DOUG’, missed by us at the time, gives operatic accompaniment to a haphazard individuals various dices with death, from falling down a flight of stairs (‘Fall’) to being struck by lightening (‘Strike’). Part vaudeville, part narrative ballad elevated to high art, Kerbel’s vocal dynamic piece is attempting to push new boundaries, in what she calls “compositional choreography”. A return visit is needed to truly experience it.

 

Not so radical this year, unless you believe that the entries redefine totally the idea of what art is and what it should stand for. A hushed, almost sedate show, multifaceted and complex, the Turner Prize 2015 continues to confound. The controversy that has to be fair, been light over the last few years, just isn’t there this year. For once we really can concentrate on the work, the most radical piece, Assemble’s workshop and renovation project will quite possibly win out in the end – the only true radical in this lineup, offering a sensible solution to a one of the most discussed topics of conversation and protest in the UK, housing.


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Words:  Dominic Valvona




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