I had forgotten just how much fun life drawing could be. There’s just me, a naked man and as much charcoal as a girl can eat. But something’s not quite right. The proportions are all wonky, the model is unusually tall and every 10 minutes there’s an ominous tinkle as he pees in a bucket.
TURNER PRIZE 2013
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WILLIE DOHERTY: UNSEEN
City Factory Gallery, Derry-Londonderry
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In David Shrigley’s Life Model at the Turner Prize 2013 exhibition in Derry-Londonderry, the subject is an animatronic sculpture rather than real flesh and blood, but the visitors’ drawings that line the gallery walls are all too human. Anyone is welcome to have a go. But with a model who is a 10ft tall preposterous pink sculpture wearing a hairpiece that would shame Silvio Berlusconi, even the most talented of students is going to produce a monster.
Glasgow-based Shrigley is nominated for the prize for Brain Activity, his massive Hayward retrospective last year. You miss the fierce and funny drawings, the deep moral seam that runs beneath his quirky animations or absurd objects. But what’s striking in this single installation is the way that his comic sensibility can command the room. On an occasion when it would be easy to fall into self-important pomp he hands the charcoal and the initiative over to the public.
Upstairs I meet Ciaran. He has a good university degree and a masters in International Relations. He has long wanted to enter public service, but a temporary freeze on Irish civil service recruitment since the economic collapse in 2008 has only just been lifted and the competition is fierce. So Ciaran fills in job applications, works in a bar, and just now he’s wearing a black polo shirt and talking to complete strangers about the market economy.
Ciaran is one of a handful of “interpreters” in an empty white room in the new Turner Prize galleries at Ebrington, the former British army barracks that loom above the River Foyle. The place was once an orchard used by James II’s troops to bombard the city across the river. The star-shaped Victorian building became the centre of British military operations. Until recently it was an ominous mess of corrugated iron and barbed wire. What will happen to it now?
Ciaran’s current job is to sweep you into conversation that can go anywhere in a scenario dreamt up by London-born German artist Tino Sehgal for an artwork entitled, This Is Exchange. Sehgal is a game changer who trained in both dance and political economy and whose major international shows at Tate Modern’s Turbine hall and Documenta in Kassel have placed him firmly in the spotlight. He has already won a Golden Lion in Venice. Sehgal resists the word performance for what he does, and though he has worked with actors and dancers in the past, his preferred collaborators are ordinary people with stories to tell. Ciaran’s chat wasn’t scripted: at one point he provoked a fierce debate amongst my fellow journalists about what my views, as a professional critic, were worth. Someone pointed out that my opinions on economics were worth absolutely nothing. That’s the market for you.
If Sehgal’s work has you blinking in bright light then both Laure Prouvost and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are set in the dark. Born in Lille and trained in London, Prouvost is an artist of distinctive charm. Her film and installation, Wantee, is a response to the story of Kurt Schwitters, the German avant-garde artist, who ended up a refugee in the Lake District.
Wantee is a fantastical recreation of the life and work of Prouvost’s fictional granddad. There’s a tender yet ridiculous film, which you view in a room full of dreadful paintings and wobbly ceramics that look like bottoms and lips. Grandad is all conceptual art action, last spotted disappearing down a self-dug tunnel with only some crisps for sustenance. It’s all hilarious, yet deeply touching. Prouvost uses her voice and her outsider’s English to soothe and seduce whilst asking pertinent questions about the nature of art and artists.
In a room so dark it is part cave and part chapel, the painter, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, shows a suite of paintings of imagined men. She is an artist so authoritative and arresting that her fictions are utterly convincing. The men, like the artist, are black, and in the half-light the white of their teeth and the white of their socks gleam. A half-naked figure leans on his gun; a man wears a rope around his slender waist. There are stories here that you long to excavate.
Across the river, in The City Factory is a moving homecoming show dedicated to the work of Willie Doherty, whose Derry-Londonderry upbringing has long haunted his work in photography, video and film. At the age of 12 Doherty watched the events of Bloody Sunday from his window. As an adult he has scrupulously examined the way in which brute politics, violence and surveillance impose their crude and limiting perspectives on our field of vision. The exhibition’s title, Unseen, evokes the way that the artist himself has used the utmost stealth to collect his own images.
This excellent mini-retrospective focuses on work made in Derry-Londonderry and its rural hinterland. It’s not all over in Doherty’s hometown. In recent years Doherty’s work has often invoked the image of ashes or embers, and his most recent film, Remains, ends with the melancholy spectacle of a burning car. But its strongest impact is achieved through the juxtaposition of the ominous empty spaces of the city with a narrative of punishment beatings and knee-cappings that is still ongoing.
Doherty is amongst those who have spoken out about their worries for the legacy of the 2013 City of Culture project. It turns out that Ebrington may not remain a gallery and is earmarked for that emblem of urban regeneration, “the creative industries”.
Ciaran told me he studied international political economy and that these days in the best economics schools in the world the students are rebelling against classic neo-liberal economics. Not because they are Marxists or revolutionaries but perhaps because they are extremely pragmatic, nobody wants to spend years learning a system that so clearly doesn’t work.
All of these artists at their best pull back some kind of veil, make you think and make you participate. Shrigley will be the people’s choice for the Turner Prize but Sehgal will probably win. If this is the most interactive Turner Prize yet, it’s because there is so much that we need to talk about.
• Turner Prize 2013 until 5 January; Willie Doherty until 4 January
Review by Moira Jeffrey