From Jabba the Hutt to shipping disasters – the inspiration for Turner Prize art

The nominees in the running for this year's award are a predictably eclectic bunch

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Spartacus Chetwynd (38)

Her work has drawn on cultural references from Paradise Lost to Jabba the Hutt, and she lives and works in a south London nudist colony. Performance artist Spartacus Chetwynd is now in the running for the top contemporary art prize in the UK.

Chetwynd, who is known for her "carnivalesque" live performances, caused the biggest stir when she was named on the shortlist for the Turner Prize yesterday. The 38-year-old has been working for a decade and described her approach as "unbridled enthusiasm" and "bottled mayhem". Her works have been seen at the Saatchi Gallery and Tate Britain.

She often works with a group of around 20 people, and the Tate said her work had "something of the anarchy of the 16th-century wandering troupe," which blurs the line between artist and viewer. Chetwynd said her work grew out of fancy-dress parties she threw as a student.

Curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas admitted staging a retrospective of Chetwynd's performance work "may prove challenging" when the works go on display in October. "It is an interesting one, but we have done performance before."

Chetwynd was nominated for her show at the Sarah Coles gallery. Odd Man Out was a five-hour performance piece addressing ideas of democracy, performed twice a week. There viewers would form part of the crowd as the artist re-enacted the story of Barabbas with puppets.

The artist studied social anthropology at University College London before heading to Slade School of Art and then the Royal College of Art. Her mother Luciana Arrighi is a set designer, winning an Oscar for Howard's End.

Born Alalia Chetwynd, she changed her name to the leader of a slave rebellion against Rome in 73 BC on her 33rd birthday. She has said in interviews that the name was "like a shield" and added: "Spartacus, I thought, was going to stop me from becoming professionalised and allow me to continue to have fun." She has also said: "Like my art, my name change annoys people," and pledged to change it again if it stopped being annoying.

Her eclectic body of work includes An Evening with Jabba the Hutt, where the Return of the Jedi villain was recast as a smooth-talking bon viveur.

Elizabeth Price (45)

Price, once the singer in 1980s indie band Talulah Gosh, creates video installations that combine images, sound and fragments of text. The Yorkshire-born artist's works include West Hinder 2012, inspired by the sinking of a ship in the channel that took almost 3,000 luxury cars to the bottom with it. The lost vehicles play songs and perform a synchronised dance as they attempt to raise themselves from the deep. Price was nominated after her recent solo show at the Baltic in Gateshead.

Luke Fowler (34)

Fowler is the latest acclaimed young artist from Glasgow. He works with film and said his formative viewing experiences came from his dad's "somewhat unreliable" recordings from television. The 34-year-old was nominated for his solo show at Inverleith House in Edinburgh, which included the third in a trilogy of films exploring the ideas of Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing. Fowler will hope to make it three in a row for Glasgow, after wins for Susan Philipsz won the Turner Prize in 2010 and Martin Boyce picked it up last year. The artist had his first major retrospective at the Serpentine in 2009. He is known for his film depictions of public figures "who, through cultural shift, have often become marginalised or maligned".

Paul Noble (48)

Noble has spent the best part of 15 years creating an imaginary town in minute detail, satirising British new towns and taking a bleak view of humanity. The graphite drawings of Nobson Newtown's buildings are structured around words that spell their function, such as the public lavatory, and the people are represented as excrement. Michael Stanley, director of Modern Art Oxford, said the artist presents worlds which are "dysfunctional and dystopian" where "people become turds and turds become people".

Noble is the most established of the artists on the shortlist and is the early frontrunner for the prize. The 48-year-old has been displayed at the Whitechapel Gallery and the Tate and was one of the founding members of London artists' space City Racing. He was born in Newcastle and lives in London.