In a world of ever-increasing political turmoil, is there room for purely conceptual art? The Turner Prize shortlist suggests not
In 1995, Damien Hirst won the Tate’s Turner Prize for his installation Mother and Child Divided, comprised of four glass-walled tanks, containing the two halves of a cow and calf, each bisected and preserved in formaldehyde solution. Hirst’s success was certainly a moment for conceptualism because it pushed the boundaries of what could be considered art, but didn't necessarily make an explicit statement about the social and political context of the world in 1995.
23 years on, the 2018 nominees for the prize have been announced, and each artist on the list holds a strong social or political conviction, and challenges dominant power structures. On top of this, all of the nominees use technology in innovative ways to retrace history through a new lens, explore the world's social injustices, and test the capabilities of how art-activism can change the world in the digital age. Art has always had a rebellious political soul – but perhaps the dominant institutions are starting to listen. Here's the lowdown on each of this year's nominees.
Charlotte Prodger is a Glasgow-based filmmaker who uses film and land art to honestly explore her identity. Queer bodies, the landscape, technology, and time are key themes of her work. Take “BRIDGIT” (2016), one of the films she was nominated for. Completely alone in a Scottish forest, Prodger uses an iPhone to shoot the landscape, with nothing but her voice overlaying the shot as she tells the story of how she came out. As a viewer, you are pulled right into Prodger's internal reality, finding yourself at home within her vulnerability. Prodger has been praised for the nuanced way she deals with identity politics, from a queer perspective.
LUKE WILLIS THOMPSON
In 2017, New-Zealand filmmaker and performer Luke Willis Thompson held his first solo exhibition, autoportrait. The film was a silent, black and white portrait of Diamond Reynolds: the woman who live-streamed the moment her boyfriend Philando Castile was shot by police during a routine traffic stop in Minnesota in 2016. Castile’s death joined a long list of black men who have fallen victim to police violence in America. The film was what got Thompson nominated for the Turner Prize, the jury praising the work for its intricate study of grief, and for highlighting racist police violence. However, Thompson's nomination has received some backlash with people, including art critics The White Pube, upset at the idea of turning black pain into a spectacle for profit.
Forensic Architecture (FA) is an agency at London’s Goldsmiths University that conducts advanced architectural and media research on behalf of human rights organisations and international prosecutors, to help them fight crimes against humanity. At the intersection of architecture, human rights, and art, the collective creates navigable 3D models of sites of conflict, and generates animations and maps that can be used in the pursuit of human rights. Take their Grenfell Tower project, which is collecting evidence to help investigate the 2017 fire, as an example. The project is currently collating public video recordings of the fire into a continuous ‘3D video’, to be mapped onto an architectural model of Grenfell Tower. The FA was nominated for its conviction to using innovative methods of design to source and visualise evidence relating to global human rights abuses, to be used in courts of law as well as exhibitions of art and architecture.
London-born artist Naeem Mohaiemen uses film, installation and writing to reflect on leftist politics, past political utopias, and the impactful legacies of colonialism, building a meta-archive of global history within his work. Mohaiemen was nominated because of his work for Documenta 14, and his film Naeem Mohaiemen: There is No Last Man that showed at New York’s MoMA PS1 in March this year. The film brings together two of Mohaiemen’s past films to imagine a relationship between two subjects on different edges of history. Volume Eleven (flaw in the algorithm of cosmopolitanism)(2016) features diptychs that explore 1930s India’s short-lived fascination with the politics of Nazi Germany. The second film, Tripoli Cancelled (2017) documents the daily life of a man stranded at an airport. The clip was filmed in the abandoned Ellinikon Airport in Athens, Greece, and reflects on his father’s displacement after he lost his passport and was stranded at the same airport for nine days in 1977.
An exhibition of work by the shortlisted artists will be staged at Tate Britain from 25 September 2018 to 6 January 2019. The winner will be announced in December at an awards ceremony live on the BBC, the broadcast partner for the Turner Prize. You can find out more here