Turner shortlist sees artists turn political

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The artists shortlisted for this year's £25,000 Turner Prize have unveiled the most political exhibition of works for years, including a reconstruction of Osama bin Laden's former home in Afghanistan and an insight into George Bush's home town in Texas.

The artists shortlisted for this year's £25,000 Turner Prize have unveiled the most political exhibition of works for years, including a reconstruction of Osama bin Laden's former home in Afghanistan and an insight into George Bush's home town in Texas.

Jeremy Deller, 38, best known for working with members of the public, leads the way with exhibits paying tribute to the West Indian immigrants who arrived in Britain on the Empire Windrush in 1948 and to a miner killed in the 1984 strike.

His video exploration of Texas includes a visit to President Bush's home town of Crawford where interviewees include the owner of the local diner. But it also talks to an elderly Quaker woman on an anti-Bush rally as well as a survivor of the Branch Davidian siege at Waco.

Ben Langlands, 49, and Nikki Bell, 45, who have collaborated as Langlands & Bell since meeting at Middlesex Polytechnic 26 years ago, present the digital reconstruction of Bin Laden's one-time home in Afghanistan which they visited during 2002 as war artists for the Imperial War Museum. The artists have taken their photographs and turned them into a video-style game that can be navigated with a joystick.

Discovering that Afghanistan was populated less by the military and more by non-governmental organisations, the artists also produced a series of works questioning the role of the NGOs. But another video, filmed in Kabul, has had to be removed from the show on legal advice because of the trial at the Old Bailey of an alleged Afghan warlord, Faryadi Sarwar Zardad.

Yinka Shonibare, 42, who was born in London but grew up in Nigeria, presents a film about the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden and a painting incorporating African-style batik as part of his investigation into empire and aristocracy.

The final contender, Kutlug Ataman, 43, who was born in Turkey, presents a single work, entitled Twelve, which consists of six people discussing how they have been reincarnated. Belief in reincarnation is common in their community in south-east Turkey.

Stephen Deuchar, the director of Tate Britain where the exhibition opens to the public today, said: "I think the public is inclined to think that the art world is very self-referential and that artists don't think beyond their own lives. But this show demonstrates a very committed engagement with subjects that are way beyond the art world and are much more about the human condition in an international context. It feels a very moving show."

The winner will be announced on 6 December; the exhibition runs until 23 December. New sponsorship from Gordon's gin means that the winner gets £5,000 more than last year's victor, Grayson Perry, and the other shortlisted artists will for the first time receive £5,000 each. The deal has also paid for a free audio guide, although there is an admission charge of £4.50.

Not the most boring prize ever, but a close second

Do not believe the pundits. This is not the most boring Turner Prize ever. That was two years ago, and the record stands. But this year's runs a good second.

With art, what you are looking for is a sign of life, a mental or visual spark. That is what distinguishes an artist from someone just going through the motions of art. By this standard, three of the four short-listees this year are not artists. Yinka Shonibare always does the same thing. Always.

He takes the sort of colourful patterned batik cloth that looks African but is made in Indonesia, and puts it with a Western cultural icon. The result (the caption always tells you) is a comment on colonialism.

There is a 3D tableau reconstruction of Fragonard's famous painting The Swing , with the woman in "African" cloth. It is not a comment on colonialism. It says nothing. It is a stupid and inert idea, and he does it over and over again.

The imagination of Langlands and Bell is more feeble. They do a school project about post-war Afghanistan, making simple patterns from the initials of various NGOs in Afghanistan (neon, flags, photos, projections). The obvious comment meets the astonishing fact: this is their day job. The film-maker Kutlug Ataman gets real but odd people to talk of their lives. It is a cliché. It could be delivered in many ways, a novel, a sociological study, or (as here) an art video.

Six Turks who believe they have lived previous lives talk about this. The subject is interesting. Six screens dangle. Turning it into art - a projection piece occupying a gallery space - has not begun.

Jeremy Deller is the only proper artist. There is a sort of spark. He deals with popular culture in various ways. Three years ago he re-staged The Battle of Orgreave (miners v police) as if it was a Civil War re-enactment by the Sealed Knot.

A sorry show. It is nobody's fault they are not artists. It is likely they were chosen on their merits, by people who know what art looks like, but cannot spot a lack of talent at point-blank range.

Tom Lubbock

Comments