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Turner Prize 2014

3 October 2014 | Jessica Johnston

Giant letters ‘O’ and ‘K’ punctuate the room and transmit a message of reassurance amidst the chaotic sea of pattern and colour.

Since it was established in 1984, the Turner Prize has become one of the most prestigious awards for the visual arts in Europe. Promoting the discussion of new developments in contemporary art in Britain, the award gives British artists under fifty, exposure to a wide audience at a crucial stage in their career. Following the lead of last year’s winning film installation Wantee (2013) by Laure Prouvost, the Turner Prize 2014 shortlist is dominated by poetic journeys into film art, with all but one of the four artists using this medium. Nominated for exhibitions seen in London, Lyon, Venice and Brussels, artists Duncan Campbell, Ciara Phillips, Tris Vonna-Michell and James Richards present a cacophony of bright colours and absorbing darkness, in a series of compelling installations featuring video art, audio, craft and design.

The first work to greet visitors is James Richards’ Rosebud 2013, a video in which censored photographs from Tokyo library books are paired with footage of a more tender resonance. In just over ten minutes, Richards presents a digital collage of black and white images, flickering from erotic photographs to hypnotic footage of a small bird shackled to a chain. The amplified soundtrack of whistles and clicks and use of a high-definition monitor serve to exacerbate the sense of claustrophobia in the images. For Richards, what is obscured is as important as what is revealed, with much of the action taking place outside the frame.

In the second part of Richards’ installation, visitors see images migrate from the screen and take on a more sculptural form. The Screens 2013, features projected images from a theatrical make-up manual whilst Untitled Merchandise (Lover and Dealers) 2007 transposes snapshots of art dealers and lovers closely connected to the artist Keith Haring, onto souvenir blankets that usually depict members of the US military.

Visitors are invited into a dimly lit space to experience Tris Vonna-Michell’s multilayered narratives. Bringing together fact and fiction, the artist presents his very first film installation, Finding Chopin: Dans l’Essex 2014, which revolves around the history of French sound poet Henri Chopin. The film combines scenes of a quiet, idyllic marshland in Essex with curious footage and fast-paced narrative from a previous installation and live performance by Vonna-Michell. Visitors can also explore a Lightbox containing source material and extracts from the film’s script, including images of shredded paper and a half eaten Cadbury crème egg. 

Vonna-Michell’s second work, Postscrpit II (Berlin) 2014, takes the form of a slide installation, based on a story about his mother’s childhood in post-war Germany. This time, visitors experience a calmer and more intimate monologue, reflecting the personal nature of the story. Through his installation, Vonna-Michell creates an immersive environment that encourages a certain interaction, inviting the audience to become a part of the story and its development. 

Ciara Phillips’ installation Things Shared 2014 is a welcome burst of colour, with more than 400 hundred of her handmade prints pasted directly onto the gallery walls from floor to ceiling. Combining new work with reappropriated elements from existing projects, Phillips’ immersive installation invites visitors to get lost in a vibrant world of colours and letters. As viewer’s move into the space, other prints and three-dimensional forms begin to unfold, constantly redirecting one’s sightline. Giant letters ‘O’ and ‘K’ punctuate the room and transmit a message of reassurance amidst the chaotic sea of pattern and colour. The artist also presents an ‘O’ shaped sound booth inside which visitors can listen to alphabetized words and phrases suggesting ‘New Things to Discuss’. Phillips’ prints defy the flatness of the materials they are presented on and a captivating sense of depth and surface pervades the space. Philiips’ visual language speaks loudly and boldly.

The final installation by Duncan Campbell features It for Others 2013, a 50-minute film responding to Chris Marker and Alain Resnais’s 1953 film essay Statues Also Die, which explores historical African art and colonialism. Through a series of chapters, Campbell uses new archive footage to reflect on how exchange and consumption affect the value of an object. The matter-of-fact tone of a female narrator guides viewers through disconnected segments of film featuring stills of African masks, images of consumer artefacts and a succession of modern day still lifes that recall food advertisements. Campbell also presents Sigmar 2008, a short film inspired by his interest in German artist Sigmar Polke. Void of any linear time, space or plot, this abstract work fuses digital and stop-motion animation with guitar music to create a series of unusual images, patterns and sounds.

Never far from controversy, the annual Turner Prize exhibition continues to surprise, shock, intrigue and infuriate critics and visitors alike. Despite its penchant for being slightly pretentious, this is still definitely one for the cultural calendar.

The Turner Prize 2014 is on at Tate Britain from 30th September – 4th January 2015. Tickets cost £6 - £11, available here. The winner will be announced live on Channel 4 on 1st December.

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