Letter: The Turner needs more than slick quotations in rice

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The Independent Online
Sir: Gordon Burn misses the point. The public do not object to the sort of work presented for the Turner prize because of 'cost', 'thereness', 'dumbness' (though that one's a near miss) or any of the other imaginative suggestions he or those artists he quoted were able to proffer.

The public object because they can see no skills exhibited in the contruction of these 'works' that the average bricklayer could not improve upon, and no explanation for its existence that might suggest it had any relevance to their lives or any meaning more worthy of attention than any one of the hundreds of dim and fleeting thoughts that pass through the minds of each one of us every day of our lives.

'Artists' such as Vong Phaophanit court attention, display their stuff and, when asked what it is all about, attempt to cover their tracks with mystification. 'Let me say that what I am doing is not primarily to be understood,' he suggests; then as if to confirm that, he offers us the cryptic, 'Silence is the only word I have found to describe it . . . silence is to do with the eyes, the look; the look can stop words.' If this has any meaning at all, it is at best vague and certainly obscure.

The sociologist Erving Goffman, writing about ritual activity, hit the nail on the head when he wrote

The audience senses secret mysteries and powers . . . and the performer senses that his chief secrets are petty ones . . . often the real secret behind the mystery is that there really is no mystery; the real problem is to prevent the audience from knowing this too.

Unfortunately, in this case the audience already know it. That's why they object.

Yours sincerely,


London, SE11

10 November