THE '97 TURNER PRIZE: TATE GALLERY LONDON, ENGLAND
Gillian Wearing, 60 minutes silence
Following last year's all-male list, an all-female list came as a pleasant surprise this year at the Turner Prize exhibition. Some said it was a way of setting the record straight, others saw it as mere coincidence. And it once more filled the London art scene with mixed feelings of rejoice and outrage. It is possibly the most controversial media event (even though it is quite predictable in its choice of artists) taking place annually at the Tate Gallery. With an award of 20,000£ the Turner Prize invites four artists to what could be almost gladiator's fight, in which they are selected for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their works in the past year.
Gillian Wearing, whose work I find particularly intriguing, is this year's winner. At the Tate she is represented with two works. Sacha and Mum is a film that shows the intense and highly ambivalent relationship between a mother and a daughter. Angry, violent gestures are interchanged with loving acts of affection. It is a very emotive and intense piece which touches on the borders of parental obsessive love and abuse. The fact that the tape is played backwards points to the absurdity and irrationality of it all.
60 Minutes Silence at first glance appears to be a life-sized photograph of 26 policemen and women which the artist has persuaded to stand still. However, we soon realize it is a video projection as the police officers gradually begin to twitch and sway. The work brings us eye to eye with the establishment and examines ways of penetrating and manipulating it.
In her previous work, Wearing also investigates the complexity of relationships with the help of the community. In an advertisement she placed in Time Out, she asked volunteers to confess all on camera and then filmed them in a variety of wigs and disguises. In 10-16, the voices of children are lip-synched by adult actors to suggest both the adult in the child, and the child in the adult. Her work is intense and at times uncomfortable, and shows the artist's deep interest in understanding human nature.
Another interesting contestant is Cornelia Parker. She became well-known with"The Maybe" a joint project with the actress Tilda Swinton at the Serpentine Gallery in`95, in which she collected an extraordinary group of objects that had belonged to famous figures and displayed them around the sleeping body of Swinton. Her piece at the Tate, "Colder Darker Matter Drawing" somehow lacks the intensity and effectiveness of that earlier project. It is an ethereal installation of some of the charred remains of a Texan church struck by lightning, which are suspended from the ceiling in the illusory shape of a cube, for it appears at once flat and three-dimensional, without ever being solid. In the "found object" tradition of Marcel Duchamp, Cornelia Parker is fascinated with simple, ordinary objects which she resurrects and transforms into poetic, powerful symbols. Her work has as much to do with labeling and context as with any intrinsic value in the materials.
Angela Bulloch presents familiar, interactive pieces."Superstructure with Satellites," is a large, mixed-media furniture-sculpture that has pressure points inside, so that when anyone sits on it, it emits the sound of a Theremin (one of the first electronic musical instruments, invented in Russia in the `30s). In another piece, she has copied rules covering liability for the bulk head seats, the seat next to exit signs in planes. Her art is about the impersonal in our increasingly technological society and issues of power management and control which she tackles with humor and lightheartedness.
Lastly, Christine Borland shows replicas of death masks from different ethnic groups, found in a German museum, which are rather weak and do not make much impact. Much more interesting are her "From Life" series, made of negatives of skeletons that are placed on glass shelves, sprinkled with dust and then removed, and the eerie shadows they create on the walls. Borland"s work is representative of anthropological concern and the loss of identity within the study of medicine and anatomy.
What all contestants share, apart from the fact that they are all women, is the investigatory nature of their work. From the social commentator to the anthropologist, the technology freak, and the even freakier collector, they all document and interpret what they see as an intrinsic part of life and art. What we would normally pass by is now brought to our full attention. To reach the desired outcome, they all collaborated with a variety of people, from forensic scientists to actors, customs officers, and architects. This is one more testimony then to art as an all-encompassing collaborative activity and not a sterile, individualistic effort.