I don’t know about you, but November has rushed passed me with the speed of a slap in the face, and I am ready to bet that this coming month will be no different.
The 3rd of December is already here, and with it will come news of this year’s Turner Prize winner, announced tonight in a live broadcast from Tate Britain. For those of you who have yet to see the show for yourselves, now is your last chance to place your bets before the jury announces its verdict. With last year’s edition taking place at the Baltic, the Turner Prize is back in London for 2012. As always, it has delivered much food for thought and spurred heated debates through its typically eclectic selection. This year, Paul Noble is the only artist working in the traditional medium of drawing. Yet there is nothing hackneyed in the surreal worlds that are spawned from the tip of his trusted pencil. He is straddled by two video artists and an off-the-wall performance piece.
I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see Noble in the run-up to this year’s prize. Having had the pleasure of seeing the Gagosian exhibition for which he was nominated, I couldn’t wait to lose myself once again in his fantastical labyrinths of graphite. Bringing a different set of pieces to Tate Britain’s show, Noble does not fail to impress. He offers landscapes from the ‘Nobson Newton’ series, drawn meticulously in his inimitable style on gargantuan expanses of paper. These might be the largest and most intricate drawings I’ve ever stood before: scatological, farcically esoteric, playfully metaphysical, mindboggling scenes, betraying the patience of a Medieval monk-illuminator while winking contemporarily at Bosch and Escher as well as at Moore’s modernist sculptures, and tying all of this together through the Renaissance ‘cavalier projection’ (a perspectival technique borrowed from early cartography) which accounts for the exquisitely odd spatial distortions that qualify all of Noble’s works.
Paul Noble, Villa Joe (Front View), 2005-6; Private Collection, courtesy the Gagosian Gallery.
This year’s Scottish contingent is represented by Luke Fowler, nominated for the latest of three videos he has made about the life and work of noted Glaswegian psychiatrist, RD Laing. The piece pastes together archival footage of Laing with scenes from the Scottish countryside. It is skilfully edited and quietly engrossing. However, it feels more like a full-blown documentary than it does video art. This might have something to do with the generous ninety-three minutes it meanders on for before reaching an end. In order to hold onto us for the duration of the piece, Fowler has teemed-up with 6a architects to concoct ‘a more enjoyable’ viewing experience within the gallery context. This includes the disposal of beanbags on which you are welcome to nest for the duration of the video. As much as I appreciated the pondered, intellectual elegance of Fowler’s piece and was grateful for the numbingly comforting beanbag experience, I cannot help but wonder whether the video’s length does Fowler a disservice within the parameters of the exhibition format.
As we proceed on to our next contender, mustering all our strength to tear ourselves away from our beanbag-induced drowsiness, we fall back into yet another darkened screening room. This time, we are greeted by Elizabeth Price’s syncopated and somewhat peculiar piecing together of Gothic church architecture with pop videos of the Shangri-Las and footage recording the tragedy of a fire which broke out in ‘79 at a Manchester Woolworths. How any of this fits together is anyone’s bet. Personally, I sat through it silently trying to make head or tail of it, to no avail. Where I believe Price succeeds is in her creation of pace and rhythm; visual repetition, clever editing and the immediacy of her use of text was certainly engaging. Overall, however, I struggled to see where this was all going.
Spartacus Chetwynd, Odd Man out, 2011; Courtesy the artist and Sadie Coles HQ, London.
Finally, just as my guards were down, having been previously cuddled by Fowler’s screening arrangement, then hypnotised by the clicking rhythm of Price’s video, I made my way sleepily out of the darkness of the two consecutive projection rooms, and fell prey to Spartacus Chetwynd’s unruly and disconcerting performance. This was without doubt my least favourite act. Chetwynd, whose pseudonym is an homage to the Roman gladiator (in case you hadn’t noticed) lives in a South London nudist commune, came to the opening of the Turner Prize wearing a fake beard and stages one of the most absurd pieces of contemporary performance I have witnessed for quite some time. She offers what she claims to be an immersive experience, in which we are invited to watch a bizarre reinterpretation of the biblical story of Barabbas, and are harassed by a grotesque, purportedly visionary, mandrake-puppet-oracle that whispers forecasts in our ear and is animated by demented-looking, legging-clad performers enacting a sort of Lord of the Flies-type tribal horror. All of this, I am told, ‘celebrates political ineptitude’. I am ready to concede that it means more about myself that I just could not find anything in this boisterous performance that resonated in any way with me. If shock was the intent, this piece amply succeeds. Personally, I am left feeling somewhat scarred and troubled by one final conundrum: what does my presumed food poisoning have to do with contemporary politics?
(Image on top: Elizabeth Price, User Group Disco, 2009; Copyright Elizabeth Price, courtesy MOTInternational, London.)
Editor's Note: Yesterday's announcement saw the prize awarded to 46 year old video artist and former indie pop musician, Elizabeth Price, who seized her time on the world art stage to express her disdain for the proposed Ebacc, a certificate of education for 16 year olds which discounts art from its subject entry criteria. Price, a graduate of the Ruskin, is another late-blooming artist to have scooped the prize, (recent previous winners included 47 year old Susan Philipsz and 45 year old Martin Boyce) and only the 5th woman to have received the so-called 'poisoned chalice'.