Building 80/81, Ebrington, Derry~Londonderry
23 October 2013 – 5 January 2014
by ANNA McNAY
That makes it two years in a row that my personal favourite has won. Maybe I should take up gambling? Then again, maybe not, as I wouldn’t in a month of Sundays have placed my money where my heart was. The bookies’ favourite for most of the run-up was Glaswegian jester David Shrigley (born Macclesfield, 1968), while word about town (aka the art world) favoured Germano-British performance artist Tino Sehgal (born London, 1976). Then there was the alternative of Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (born London, 1977), the first black woman to be nominated.
Prouvost, who takes over the crown from fellow video artist Elizabeth Price (born Bradford, 1966), was nominated for her work Wantee (2013), commissioned with Grizedale Arts for inclusion in Tate Britain’s recent Kurt Schwitters exhibition, as well as for her two-part installation for the Max Mara art prize for women, which she won in 2011. In Derry, Wantee shows alongside a new and complementary video piece, Grandma’s Dream (2013), which picks up on the fictional narrative Prouvost had already created. As visitors sit in oddly adapted chairs at a curiously bedecked table in a dark room, they listen to the strangely endearing French girl’s whispered tale of her grandparents (her grandfather also a conceptual artist and, for the purposes of this story, a close friend of Schwitters; her grandmother a ceramicist and crisp-muncher) and Schwitters’ partner, Edith Thomas, nicknamed Wantee because of her habit of asking: “Want tea?” As this film ends, visitors clamber through a low door into a brightly lit, pink walled and carpeted, sloping annex, as tiny as it is luminous, to watch the epilogue on a small screen with four speakers, one in each corner. Here, the narrative becomes even more crazily surreal, with erotic references to “granddad” touching the naked body of “grandma” and their kissing. Many different clips are collaged together with the voiceover repeating each time “in Grandma’s dream …” Despite, or perhaps because of, the harshness of the lighting, the dream almost becomes your own. And now, happily, it is the artist’s as well.
While Prouvost wins £25,000, each of the other three shortlisted walks away with £5,000. Not bad, some might say, particularly in the case of Sehgal for whose work there isn’t even a photograph to show. Nominated for These associations (2012), which visitors to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall more commonly referenced as “the zombie work”, where trained volunteers, or “elements”, approached members of the public, attempting to engage them in conversation, and a similar project, This variation (2012) at Documenta 13, Sehgal, who provides merely the initial concept, does not permit any documentation of his works. Considering himself a “bastard child of visual arts and dance” and preferring the term “live art” to “performance art”, which, he says is far too self-important, Sehgal describes his works as “dialogical structures – one thing showing two sides.” For Derry~Londonderry, he has staged a version of This is exchange, first conceived in 2003, where visitors (“receptors”) and elements are invited to discuss the state of the market economy.
Nominated for his solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, David Shrigley: Brain Activity (2012), Shrigley is here displaying part of his exhibition from Cornerhouse in Manchester last year, a three metre high fibreglass nude male life model, made completely out of all proportion, who blinks and urinates at intervals, while towering tall and inviting visitors to put pencil to paper at one of the many easels laid out in waiting, to produce their own life drawing. Shrigley, who has often said that he himself is not at all skilled at drawing, maintains that every visitor’s contribution is as valid an art piece as his gigantic life model, and, as such, each drawing is pinned up on the wall, thus becoming part of a Turner Prize installation. Shrigley really wanted to do something “different”, to invite the public to interact and make their mark. It worked, to a degree, since, according to curator Maolíosa Boyle, director of Derry~Londonderry’s Void Gallery, nearly every one of the 28,000-plus visitors participated. Unfortunately, however, there has been some controversy, as a number of local schools refused to allow pupils into this particular exhibit. Still, what’s a Turner Prize without controversy?
Yiadom-Boakye is perhaps the least controversial in terms of her medium, which is traditional oil on canvas. Each painting, which she refers to as a “composite”, is created from memories, encounters and scrapbook gatherings and is allegedly completed within a single day. Put together to form larger narratives, which can be juggled and retold according to the combination and hang, her dark depictions of androgynous characters recall, for the artist, Walter Sickert and, for me, with their brilliant white eyes, pants and socks, gleaming out in the dim light of the room, Francisco Goya.
The Turner Prize began in 1984 and was named in honour of JMW Turner, in response to his unfulfilled wish to set up an award for younger artists. To be eligible, an artist must be under 50 and have been born in Britain, or living or working there. This year, for the first time, the exhibition and event is taking place outside England, with Derry~Londonderry being picked as host because of its stint as the UK City of Culture for 2013. The gallery developed for the exhibition was originally a set of adjoining dormitories (Buildings 80 and 81) at the Ebrington military barracks, home to the Eighth Infantry Brigade during “the Troubles”. The site itself was made accessible from the walled city on the other side of the River Foyle only by the building of the Peace Bridge in 2011, as part of the preparations for the City of Culture.
Speaking on BBC2’s The Arts Show and referencing the extra-artistic elements of this year’s exhibition, critic Peter Curran said: “I think this is the first year that the Turner Prize can be accused of being meaningful, of having depth, of having something for ordinary people who wouldn’t see themselves dead inside an art gallery normally.” It may not have been a year of firsts as far as the choice of prizewinner was concerned, but it was certainly a year of firsts on many other levels. The 29th Turner Prize will not be quickly forgotten.