Tate Liverpool, until 19th March 2023, free
I feel even for myself that it’s very cringy that I’ve chosen to do my first post in a while on the Turner Prize. The one thing which, more than any other, everyone has an opinion on. I hate it because the discourse around the Prize tends to be more important than any single piece of the actual art. “Is this really the best we’ve got? It’s all films! Now it’s collectives!” and on and on it goes.
And the Prize has never really bothered to counter this sense of itself as A Moment For Discussion rather than an actual award. It may well have things to say about where the contemporary art world is, but we don’t always get to hear it, or about the artists involved, over the general noise.
Based on this year’s exhibition I’m more against it than ever – and that’s because I think the selectors have done a great job. The artists they’ve picked are interesting. I like the mix of styles, interests and motivations they represent. I like the way that the show opens with space for the audience to get to know the artists a little bit better with a set of videos where each briefly explains their practice – introductions which genuinely shed light on what you’re going to see. It feels like the artists’ voices are given space they deserve.
I do not like the fundamental fact that the format puts them all into competition with each other. More than ever I feel like the 2019 winners move to collectivise was the right one. No value comes out of getting audiences to put a plastic coin into a clear perspex box except to propagate a sense that one artist, one method of expression perhaps (given that they’re all working within variously politically contexts) one subject, is better and more valid than the others. This is not what the discourse needs. Did it ever?
The more valuable thing to do seems to me to be to consider why these four have been chosen. So here’s four reviews of four artists which have nothing to do with each other.
Phillipson’s installation RUPTURE NO. 6: biting the blowtorched peach 2022 goes big on mood. It feels like a vision of the future, diminished (as seems increasingly, depressingly likely) by climate fuckery. It’s essentially doomy, consistently slightly unsettling – but that slightly is important. Above all this is appealing. Grim but in a way which I want to look at, a place I want to spend time exploring. And which is also laced with a kind of weird humour – if you don’t laugh you cry, right? So we find odd metal sculptures you’d barely notice if they didn’t cast shadows like monstrous ants. And there’s both dazzling wonder and a big dollop of uncanny in the corridor of animal eyes which opens the exhibition space.
Sound is crucial here. The drones, creaks and howling winds create a desolate space which is fundamental to setting the atmosphere to which everything else responds. Human voices warning/ hinting at the effects of climate change are consigned to headphones – loud enough when you choose to listen, but you may not choose.
It all feels very current, very on-point, but also completely devoid of sledgehammer and full of imagination. It’s really great.
I admit, I don’t find Ryan’s work here particularly penetrable. The wall text irritates me: though it opens with the statement Ryan’s work is “open to a wide variety of meanings”, it then gives specific cues. Which implies there’s specific things we need to know. For me the objects are mostly too obscure to invite individual contemplation, but equally too disparate and sparing to really work. Too cold. It’s a shame, as she comes across really well in her video and I’ve love to see more of her ideas. Just not like this.
I’m afraid I don’t have anything much else to say, because I’m more conscious of feeling the gaps than the connections.
(However, I’m aware that my impression of Ryan’s exhibit is one of the only places where the design of the overall gallery space feels like it has a real impact on the experience. The howling winds of Phillipson’s space bleed through into here and contribute to an atmosphere you can’t imagine Ryan intended. I am conscious of how this might have impacted my experience of her work. At the same time, after two visits there’s nothing in her work which speaks to me strongly enough to stand by an alternative narrative. There’s a difference – or maybe a fine line – between ideas being subtle and invisible, and if anything the sound emphasises where on this divide Ryan’s work seems to sit for me.)
Sin Wai Kin
Does anybody else ever sense a tension in online discourse that, at the same time as society is becoming increasingly open to the idea of non-conformism, there’s a flattening of how we’re expected to present as individuals? We all have the capacity for messy, contradictory multitudes, but online means of expression do seem to force us into niches.
Sin Wai Kin’s installations are a great representation of multi-faceted existence. Gendered expectations of masculine and feminine are a key concern, but far from the only one. Your very existence is up for questioning.
A boyband is a perfect vehicle for these ideas. With personalities manufactured in broad strokes they’re easy to segment, but also to recognise – to feel like you know. You’ll have obsessive discussions about who’s your favourite, but recognise that the thing you love needs all of them to work. Sin’s fitted her message into a short few lines repeated by each character of It’s Always You. They play exactly with the kind of words your teenage idols would have gone for, but their punchiness actually creates more room for the truth of their point to be felt.
Given longer form to play with, I am very intrigued by the philosophy behind the longer film A Dream Of A Wholeness In Parts clearly has a fascinating philosophy (in fact I take particular notes of the names of the books Sin has for suggested reading). The issue is that it’s almost too hypnotic. In the visual story unfolding it’s easy to lose track of the philosophical narration, of its meaning. This is a shame as I am deeply interested in what it has to say, and I wish there was a transcript available for further reading.
Pollard’s installation demonstrates a great knack for bathos as she shines a light on what I’ll call the “yeah, but”’s of society. “Yeah, but, that’s not racist because…”, you can almost hear the indignant grumbles of Middle England through the space of Seventeen of Sixty Eight. But of course, these figures, pub signs and street names were racist. So common as to blend into the background, barely worth a thought – this is both the how and why of the existence of institutionalised racism. Elsewhere Pollard pulls a similar trick with homophobic language and assumptions. The powerful to the ridiculous: in both cases the subjects inspires anger, whilst also really highlighting how ridiculous and absurd such lines of thought actually are.
This is a feeling which finds its culmination in the chaotic genius of Bow Down and Very Low. Even when still it carries a sense of anticipation. In full flow it’s a perfect deconstruction of the authority of a little girl’s bow, based on hierarchies of power and gender and colonial oppression. It’s violent, but more than that it’s absurd. The laughs it inspires are in defiance of its threat, and all authority breaks down. Glorious.
Do you remember the online storm last year around the mooted reality show The Activist? People rightfully got mad about the idea of pitching charities – all equally valid and excellent in their own fields – against each other. Something of the same is at play here. I hope these short thoughts give you a sense of of why I think that the Turner Prize 2022 is great, and also pointless. Go and see it, and even have your favourite. But do you really need to vote?