A Review of the Turner Prize 2016 Exhibition at Tate Britain, London
Known for its cutting-edge commentary on contemporary art, the Turner Prize 2016 opened at Tate Britain, London on September 27th, marking its 32nd year in existence. As ever, this year’s prize attracted media scrutiny upon the early announcement of its four nominees back in May, inviting the usual refrains of "is it art?" and "what does it mean?"
Fittingly then, the exhibition opens with Helen Marten’s (purposefully) enigmatic installations. Described by Marten herself as “visual riddles,” these are made from collections of found objects like shoes, egg shells and feathers and each placed onto and within unfamiliar superstructures of various abstract forms. Human lungs are the model for a large screen print, populated with images and colours meant to call to mind the end of day. According to Tate, the aim is to refer back to motifs and gestures taken out of everyday experience, to divest them from their usual settings, and invest them with new meanings as a consequence. It is work which is demanding of the viewer, calling for their extended engagement with the installations to puzzle out their half-recognisable forms and materials from the viewers’ own memories, working “like archaeologists of [their] own time,” to quote Marten again.
Next comes Anthea Hamilton. The first half - affectionately referred to by Tate as ‘the butt room’ - is dominated by Hamilton’s ceiling-height, golden polystyrene backside Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce). The sculpture is literally a shining example of her work. It's playful, creating a surreal space reawakening - resized and misshapen - cultural and physical memory. Like Marten, Hamilton wants to encourage a fetishistic, extended viewing process, symbolised in her work by the brick wall design on the walls. In fact, she reportedly became obsessed with looking at bricks for their patterns, cracks and lichen. Hamilton then invites the viewer to experience the ‘sunny June 3pm sky’ that overwhelmed her when she found out she had been nominated for the Turner Prize. A selection of chastity belts hang in the middle of this sky-scape, some sporting laser-cut designs abstracted from botanical drawings she found in an old book, and accessorised with pieces of long grass, dried flowers, and metal studs.
Josephine Pryde’s works are exhibited in the third room. Two walls display her high-resolution photographs of her subjects’ brightly nail-varnished fingers touching objects such as phones, computer tablets and notebooks. These are accompanied by an immobile train The New Media Express in a Temporary Siding (Baby Wants to Ride), which has been ‘stationed’ for this exhibition. These images are subtle in their power, playing with the viewer and with their expectations of the uses of those objects presented to us. Desire and action become separate entities, as the train’s Turner Prize title Baby Wants to Ride reminds us. Standing against the third wall are eight kitchen worktops. As an Erasmus tutor and Professor of Photography at the Freie Universität Berlin, Pryde presents a work steeped in her personal reaction to the Brexit vote. Sent to her in three different European locations, she placed pieces of scrap from her immediate surroundings onto the worktops, and recorded their shadows using spray paint.
Marking the passage from Pryde’s room into his own, Michael Dean clads the doorframe of his exhibition space with shoe stickers. This proves to be a fitting introduction to his contribution Sic Glyphs, an installation made up of works characterised by his use of what Dean calls ‘democratising’ materials such as cement as a poor-man’s ceramic. A forest-like installation of multi-coloured, human-sized, serpentine forms fills the bright blue and white space. Conceived as visual manifestations of language, abstracted and unreadable; loaded with contemporary resonance, the word ‘shore’ permeates this particular show. Pieces of corrugated sheet metal are printed with marijuana leaves as though moving through the space on a swirling breeze. Shells and sand ground Dean’s created world in nature, while terracotta casts of fists and cement sculptures of tongues litter the ground, adding a bodily and personal dimension. This democratisation and social conscience is embodied by the centrepiece - a pile of pennies making up £20,436, the poverty line for a family of four. Spilling over the floor in the centre of the room, stray pennies are held in the reverential respect of fine art displayed in a gallery.
In a year which saw monumental political and social changes, contemporary art has reacted, exemplified by the social conscience of these four nominees. Whoever this year’s Turner Prize winner may be, they will be the victor from a strong cohort, each destined no doubt to remain rooted in the British cultural landscape, accessible in their relevance and participatory natures.
The winner of the Turner Prize 2016 will be announced on December 5th in a ceremony broadcast live on the BBC.
Written by Lois Haines, a contributor to Arteviste.com