THE Turner Prize at Tramway is almost as important for the venue as the artists, for whom a nomination can be a mixed bessing
Turner Prize 2015
Whether it takes place at its regular home at Tate Britain, or on its bi-annual foray into the rest of the country, there is something about the Turner Prize that brings out the apocalyptic in people.
Wandering through sparkling white spaces of the revamped Tramway 2 in Glasgow I might be expected to have steam coming out my ears. This is the time of year, after all, when the mass media can be found huffing and puffing about the end of art and the end of times.
Happily, I don’t feel that way. Partly, because this is a slow-burner Turner, requiring time, patience and attentive reading and listening. But it is also because, this year, the artists are doing the apocalypse for us.
Bonnie Camplin’s brilliant, thoroughly destabilising presentation Patterns brings us into close proximity with people who do believe in end times, in thought control and in conspiracy. In a clever little pentagon-shaped film installation, sane-seeming, lovely, ordinary people, talk about being kidnapped by mysterious forces and escaping from abuse and mind control. There are hotspots for this kind of thing, it turns out, one of them being Totnes in Devon. And there’s a handy terminology “the Mannequin Programme”, “MK Ultra”. You laugh for a second, but when an image of Jimmy Savile flashes up, and you are reminded of him hiding in plain sight for all those years, or when you think about extraordinary rendition, your smile is frozen on your face.
Camplin has created an accompanying library of resources that is orchestrated rather than assembled: at one end the dystopian fiction of Doris Lessing, in the middle the creepy straight business literature that tells you how to use auto-suggestion to sell washing machines. One only longs for a stronger sense of Camplin’s own thesis, rather than a kind of wry shrug.
Janice Kerbel’s fictional character Doug experiences his own apocalypses every day. Kerbel’s musical suite consists of nine operatic tales for six voices, sung in the opening days of the exhibition by Scottish Opera. It sums up elegantly in each of the deaths that Doug must endure.
As a parent of a young child the artist has found herself an unwilling and inexperienced health and safety expert. So Doug’s experiences of death by choking, an unfortunate encounter with a bear and a banana skin are heartfelt. But as an artwork DOUG, is as much a sculptural object as a performance in that it deliberately sacrifices expressive musicality and the dynamics of individual emotion for hard shapes and hard edges to delineate its slapstick: the sound of man slipping on a banana skin or being hit on the head by a falling tortoise.
Assemble, the art, architecture and design collective, who have been the runaway popular success of the Turner show so far, were nominated for their work in Liverpool helping revitalise derelict Victorian housing with the local community. Their workshop-cum-showroom showcases a new social enterprise they have set up selling printed textiles, lampshades and light pulls created by local people.
Theirs is a lovely hands-on installation, all warm wood and plaster. The Glasgow curatorial team of Claire Jackson and Paul Pieroni have done an excellent job overall, but this reconstruction of a Toxteth terrace house reaching far in to Tramway’s lofty space is a delightful touch. But Assemble don’t think of themselves as artists, and so the question is, why should we?
In contrast, Nicole Wermer’s work infrastruktur is art all the way, a bracingly frosty sculptural installation of Marcel Breuer chairs scrupulously adapted with found fur coats, silk and velvet. You know where you are with all of this: luxuries and consumption, the hidden gender histories of design classics. It is a gorgeous show but somehow hopelessly adrift in this year’s context.
Does the Turner still matter? It matters for Tramway, which must hope the prize will anchor the building deeper into public consciousness and help consolidate much-needed municipal support, although they can’t reasonably hope for the astonishing 149,000 people who turned out when Baltic hosted the show in 2011.
It matters for the public. The Turner is still the place where tens of thousands of people come, open-minded and curious, to hear and see what artists have to say. It matters for we spluttering and outraged journalists, too. For the artists, though, it remains a mixed blessing: the chance for their work to meet lots of new people whilst being thrown into the open maw of mass media.
This is one of those years I find it impossible to predict a winner. I like Kerbel’s work best: it is uproariously funny and endearingly obsessive in its construction. The public love Assemble, who deserve ample support for their wider work. But it is perhaps Camplin, who has looked into the internet abyss and survived, who seems best equipped for these apocalyptic times.
Until 27 January