Words: Elizabeth Nielson
Above image:
 Turner Prize installation shot: ‘Things Shared 2014’ by Ciara Phillips

Taking my crawling-almost-walking 11-month-old son to art exhibitions is the mainstay of my weekends. We trek around the East End of London, schlep down to Peckham and hang around outside Tate waiting for it to open at 10am. The only time we watch TV is in art galleries. He loves an immersive film installation, and a low hung flat-screen will stop the most persistent of crying fits.

When you work or study a particular field, your enjoyment of that arena is often altered by your professional understanding of the practicalities – things that might not even register to the lay-person. As I work in the art world (as a curator and as Director of the Zabludowicz Collection) it is hard to remove my professional interpretation from my emotional one. Hard to look at work and enjoy it for its ‘soul’, and not take into account its placement in the room or a noisy distracting projector. One of the first things you learn as a curator is that everything matters – what colour wall paint, what seating, what carpet – everything you encounter is to be taken as conscious decision and part of the work, and as such can add or detract from the viewers’ experience.

The Turner Prize – the annual award offered by Tate to one of four shortlisted artists under 50, based in the UK – is awarded to an artist for the work they are nominated for, not for the work they put into the exhibition. The show at Tate can only contain a fraction of their complete practice and as such is famous for controversy – infamous for empty rooms with lights going on and off (Martin Creed, winner 2001), for pervy pots (Grayson Perry, winner 2003) and elephant poo (Chris Ofilli, winner 1998).

Turner Prize installation shot: 'The Screens 2013' by James Richards

Tate Britain offers the best art experience for babies. Firstly, the Duveens – currently hosting the remnants of Phillida Barlow’s epic ‘Dock‘ – have the best acoustics ever. Perfect for getting to grips with your new-found voice, if you are a baby that is. Tate also frequently adds live elements and education events to their programme – many focused on family interaction with the work on show. I went to see the Turner Prize one weekend last month and there were dancers sheathed in Lycra body-tubes writhing around on the floor in the Henry Moore room. Occasionally they would assume almost the exact reclining position as the sculptures. Occasionally they would reach out and wave as my son, Dieter alternately shouted and stared in transfixed silence at the spectacle.

The Turner Prize show itself is tucked away at the back of the gallery. You have to pay to go in – with the Turner collections on show until 6 January 2015 – so it might not be on the top of your to-do list with a toddler or crawler, as these little additions tend to make art viewing either a laborious or simply impossible process. But this year’s shortlist offers some surprises and is worth the trip, perhaps only for its quiet galleries and deep pile carpet.

The winner has just been announced but that shouldn’t stop you visiting. Here is my take on the exhibitors, in the order in which they are exhibited…

James Richards is showing three works. He is best known for his work in moving image and the film Rosebud 2013 continues to show his mastery of sonic subtly – with a titular nod to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane from 1941 whose groundbreaking ‘lightning-mix’ soundtrack and non-narrative, linear edit is reflected in Richards’ edited and collaged moving image works of found and authored footage. He is also showing tapestrys and a slide installation of similarity represented images – the tapestrys of men photographed with street artist-turned-art world darling Keith Haring, who died of HIV in 1990.

Each tapestry centres the man with the Haring whose bespectacled face is cut off on one side inviting us to always question the context. The slideshows of re-photographed images of wound make-up from a grimas face paint manual I had when I was 10 reiterate his intention to make us re-look at the construction of images. But this room was bypassed a little bit, as Dieter crawled right on through it.

Turner Prize installation shot: 'Addendum I (Finding Chopin: Dans l'Essex) 2014' by Tris Vonna-Michell

He was heading towards the comfort of the Tris Vonna-Michell room where shelves of ephemera were supported by another slide installation and a projected film – the artist’s first. The content is hard to grasp – themes of locations and the artist’s mother seem to shape the story and content. Vonna-Michell often works with live performance, his spoken narratives are performed at staccato speed with his accent and body language shaping the experience as much as the spiralling content. His leap to present these performances as stand alone installations means that a recording of his voice has a lot to carry. The room is also crawler heaven with soft carpet, speakers and projections make for excellent shadow play and floor fun. I had to drag the boy into the next room.

In there Ciara Phillips has covered a room in brightly coloured prints that were produced during the exhibition at London’s Showroom for which she was nominated. These prints were made in collaboration with visitiors and invited groups. The process of printing, teaching and art as an educational tool and an enabling motivator is symbolised by the floor-to-ceiling covered room and the graphic prints. Interviews are housed in a C-shaped listening booth covered in fabulous graphic prints of hands with rolls of tape. The production process of the work is easier to understand than the collaborative content, which is tricky to grasp and hard to rationalise without extensive exploration. For the time-starved it is best to soak up the colours, textures and the buoyant installation which uses every surface equally – not a casual decision, one assumes.

Turner Prize installation shot - 'It for Others 2013' by winner of this year's competition Duncan Campbell

The final artist in this year’s group – winner, Duncan Campbell – makes fictional movies about real people and situations. He is showing two films, one a super-short abstract film of a squiggly black line projected from an old school 16mm projector. It is called Sigmar and is an imagining of Sigmar Polke (see Tate Modern now!) drawing, it is a great room to explore – the clack of the projector and the silly germanic huming make for entertaining impressions and it is a light-hearted, inspired work. His second work is a much longer film, ‘It For Others‘, for which he was nominated. This is shown in a pitch black space on the hour.

At over 50 minutes the film is too long for most people under 14 to endure, Dieter lasted a full four minutes before I was crawling across the pitch black room reaching for his legs. The content of the work, from what I read after, is a response to a film by Chris Marker and Alan Resnais called Statues Also Die 1953. Campbell has taken their presentation and anthopomorphising of sculptures and drawn it into a chapter based abstract exploration of colonialism and representation – but I’ll have to take the website’s word for that as I saw less than one tenth of it on my visit.

The winner was announced on 1 Dec with Cambell bagging the £25k this year, but all four of the artists are equally mystifying in their very diverse and difficult practices. Only one is already in the Tate collection so perhaps this might have swayed the judges – it’s not allowed to but you never know… After all, professional distance is very hard to assure!


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