Strangeness and confusion
The entrance to Heather Phillipson’s world (1978) consists of two walls with screens full of eyes that look almost accusingly at you. Elephant eyes, owl eyes, lizard eyes, human eyes. She then tried to create her own ecosystem in a multimedia space, dark and filled with references to climate change. A bunch of large, empty gas bottles clink against each other like a gigantic windbreak and on a couple of screens large, flaming peaches hang over the sea.
Phillipson sees his work as creating compositions with light, images and music. Usually she doesn’t know in advance where she will end up. “I sniff around like a dog, keeping my nose to the ground and following the trail as soon as I smell a good scent,” she says in her introductory video for the exhibition. She pursues strangeness and confusion, she says, and she’s “interested in the quality of everything to stand for something else.”
One of Phillipson’s most famous works of art is the huge dot of whipped cream that temporarily stood on one of the plinths around Trafalgar Square in London from 2020 to September 2022, with a drone in the shape of a fly. According to Phillipson, the whipped cream represented political instability, the drone referred to the security cameras in and around the square that the authorities use to keep an eye on things. There were also cameras in the drone itself, whose images could be followed on a live stream.
Origin and identity
Identity, history, how the human psyche works. Veronica Ryan (1956) explores “how we relate to objects and how they relate to us.” She loves “contradictions and paradoxes and how they say something about our culture more broadly.” Ryan collects things and materials “like a magpie” and uses them in his art.
In Liverpool, the room for Ryan’s part of the exhibition has been painted completely yellow. Her colorful crocheted bags of fruit or the remains of it contrast with the walls and remind of a colorful market. Naturally, there is also a connection with environmental awareness, because Ryan incorporates stray plastic, fishing line and other packaging materials into his pieces. Cardboard or plastic bowls with cocoa pods are scattered around the room.
Ryan’s nomination for the Turner Prize also includes the large tropical fruits that line a square in East London’s Hackney: huge chunks of custard apple, breadfruit and soursop. They are the first official monument to celebrate the Windrush generation, the British people who came to Britain from former colonies in the Caribbean in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Her parents took Veronica Ryan to the UK as a baby. In the opening cutscene, she walks by the market and lovingly scrubs the stains off one of her fruits.
‘Black Boy’ is still everywhere
‘The hidden and that which is not hidden’, according to Ingrid Pollard (1953), is the basis of her work. Pollard was born in Guyana and came to England at the age of four, at a time when thousands of families from the Caribbean and West Africa were coming to Britain. As a teenager, she started shooting with the camera her father had lent her.
Pollard’s art closes the exhibition in Liverpool and her work shows how much racism is still woven into British society. Sometimes her work is explicit, such as her collections of “Black Boy” images and advertisements. A menu board held by a black chef, pictures of a pub or streets called “Black Boy”. “It’s about race, but even more about being British and what we mean by that,” says Pollard in the introduction.
Other works are more intuitive, such as installations of wood, rope and large saws that repeatedly swing back and forth or make a kind of kneeling motion. They are part of Bend down and very low – 123a number of objects Pollard uses to de current investigates, following a 1947 video of a black girl doing a knee bend. “This is about the abuse of power and how the body relates to it.”
Sin Wai Kin
Play with the narrative
Sin Wai Kin as an intergalactic newsreader. Sin Wai Kin as four members of a Korean boy band. Sin Wai Kin like playing chess drag queen. Sin Wai Kin (1991) plays with identity and gender, inspired by characters from fantasy and science fiction. “I use speculative fiction to take apart and rebuild social narratives. We all know the experience of living in a binary narrative,” says Sin in the introduction, which means that you are approached as a girl or a boy, as a man or a woman. Sin was born Victoria Sin.
In the exhibition, the members of the boy band are depicted as life-size cardboard dolls. They are four different Sins poking fun at the characters of a boy band that fans like to identify with. Sin wants to encourage people to think about how we construct identity. The members have names: The Universe (the handsome boy), The Storyteller (the serious one), The One (the childish one) and Wai King (the heartthrob).
The fact that Sin always portrays all the characters himself was never a conscious choice. “It started with my first character Victoria. Looking back, I tried to dissect the Western femininity that I was associated with, that I had learned to want.” This also applies to the other characters. “I always try to dissect and rebuild the ideal image.”
Four very different exhibitions
On the fourth floor of Tate Liverpool you can walk through four very different exhibitions. Although they have one thing in common: they examine all contemporary issues, from racism to gender to climate change.
The four artists behind the exhibitions are the nominees for the Turner Prize, the annual British prize for contemporary art organized by the four Tate museums in London, St. Ives and Liverpool. An award that is as prestigious as it is controversial. Because modern art itself evokes all kinds of emotions, but mainly because the Turner Prize has made provoking controversy more or less its goal. In recent years, however, the award itself has increasingly become the subject of discussion, rather than the art itself.
The selection of the finalists this year was, as is often the case with the Turner Prize, a position in itself. Three women and one non-binary artist will have a chance to win the award next Wednesday, December 7: Heather Phillipson, Ingrid Pollard, Veronica Ryan and Sin Wai Kin. For the first time, the jury chose a non-binary nominee, since in 1997 only women and no men were nominated for the first time. And three of the nominees are not white.
For the first time, the jury chose a non-binary nominee, and three of the nominees are not white
The exhibition and the nominees have received generally enthusiastic reviews in the British media – after three rather chaotic years in a row with a lot of negative publicity. In 2019, all finalists jointly won after convincing the jury that the competitive element of the prize did not suit them (they advocated solidarity in art and society). This led to raised eyebrows in and outside the art world, because it should no longer be about the art, but about the statement.
The award ceremony was canceled in 2020 due to the corona crisis. Last year, the organization chose to nominate collectives only. Due to the shutdowns, ‘ordinary’ exhibitions of individuals had hardly been possible, and it was a good opportunity to express the importance of togetherness, the jury felt.
It was wrong again. Some of the collectives were more like local neighborhood associations and activist clubs than artists, was the main criticism. And it appeared that the jury had been forced to search for nominees in all four countries of the UK. In the end, a collective in Belfast, Northern Ireland won.
The reviewer of the left-wing daily The Guardian wrote last year that “after Turner’s long and troubled history […] it would be good to see the price implode now”. And the conservative Daily Telegraph called the 2021 edition “perhaps the worst” since the award’s inception in 1984, the committee found “irrelevant” and “damaging the award’s reputation”.
The jury must be independent, but three of the four jury members this year were involved in the exhibitions of three of the nominees
If left and right find each other in their criticism, is there a grain of truth in it? In any case, the comment reveals a dilemma for the organization of the award; whether they primarily want to capture the spirit of the times or rather look at the quality of the art. At least it worked again, e.g New York Times wrote in 2019 to “retain status as the most important talking point in the British art world.” And otherwise at least give the critics “the chance to complain about the state of the art world.”
In any case, the four nominees this year are all artists, and their creations can generally also hang in a gallery. And that’s where the sore point is this year. The jury changes annually and is supposed to be independent, but three of the four jury members this year were involved in three of the nominees’ exhibitions. “It is institutionally lazy to say the least and suggests that artist careers in Britain are increasingly inbred, self-selected and an insider affair,” wrote the British art magazine. ArtReview. Fortunately, still a trouble for the Turner prize.