The Turner Prize 2015

Tramway – Glasgow
Written for Scottish Art News – October 2015

The recently itinerant Turner Prize comes to Scotland this year with a measurably slight and light-footed presentation. Occupying the cavernous Tramway in Glasgow, this year’s nominees – three incongruent artists and, for the first time, an architect’s collective – have been separated out by a series of maze-like corridors, uncertain areas and white cubes in miniature.

The first of these, Nicole Wermers, presents a cold disinterested shoulder to the visitor. Congregating in pairs and trios around the gallery are elegant chairs made of tubular steel in the unmistakable vernacular of Bauhaus design. Draped over their backs are sumptuous (and real) fur coats that mark private territories. This cool arrangement of finery however seems all too simplistic an observation of ownership, wealth and power to impact the way the artist intends; the configuration of luxury commodity and fashionable object feeling closer to Instagram than social critique.

In contrast, Janice Kerbel’s high pomp and discomfiting opera DOUG positively invigorates the gallery with urgency and dark humor. Comprising nine compositions variously performed by a sextet of classical vocalists, DOUG chronicles the fictional misadventures of Kerbel’s hapless and acutely accident-prone muse. Doug’s calamitous slips, trips and falls are communicated through suitably alarming shrieks, vocal blasts and rapidly cascading phrases that accumulate in one terrible mass. DOUG is a squeamish songbook of physical disasters – enjoying it, an exercise in schadenfreude.

Even from the vantage point of our post-Snowden age of accepted surveillance, very few of us find it possible to operate outside established social systems or conceive different registers of truth. Bonnie Camplin however gravitates towards its farthest reaches, and this installation, The Military Industrial Complex peels back the multifaceted façade of what the artist calls ‘consensus reality’. The gallery is starkly arranged like an evidence room with books and printouts that traverse the occult, cosmology, warfare and capitalism all laid out for browsing and photocopying. Centrally positioned video monitors offer extended testimonials from individual outliers who claim to have been super-soldiers, subject to government testing, mind control and secret experiments. These well-rehearsed conspiracy theories, treated with distrust and dubiety by the mainstream, are proffered by Camplin as possible truths – and why not?

The final installation, Assemble’s Granby Workshop, is positioned within a cul-de-sac to the rear of the space. Here, an enclosed low-lit display space complete with pitched roof has been constructed to resemble a snug, welcoming tenement house decorated with Assemble’s extremely affordable and very desirable domestic products. This presentation demonstrates the collective’s ingenuity with found material and urban detritus; much of it waste cleared from derelict homes in Toxteth, Liverpool, the area and community Assemble are currently helping to reinvigorate.

This disparate group – perhaps more so than in previous years – does not make for the most cohesive presentation, but why should it? As always with the Turner Prize, the winner is anyone’s guess.

– View Scottish Art News Issue 24 online here –