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Come back the Turner Prize, all is forgiven.
British art is not dead, despite the Turner Prize constantly trying to prove the contrary. At least according to the ICA in London, where you can see work by nine artists shortlisted for the UK’s largest art prize not called Turner.
Now in its fourth year, Beck’s Futures “identifies, supports and promotes the most promising contemporary artists working in Britain today”. It also gives away £65,000 in prize money. To be eligible all you have to do is be based in the UK. Apart from that, anything goes, although you’d never know it from this year’s drab, derivative nominees:
German-born Bernd Behr is showing a video in which, it’s claimed, “the urban space itself appears to be performing”. In truth, it’s Bernd clambering up onto a stone plinth. The same one that French artist Yves Klein photographed himself jumping off in 1960, but you won’t care if you don’t know that. And if you do?
Alan Currall also makes videos. Monologues in fact, like Message To My Best Friend, a self-explanatory, four-minute testimony which doesn’t come close in subtlety and poignance to, say, Marion & Geoff. But then that’s not “art”, is it.
The anonymous artists’ collective, Inventory, call their work “fierce sociology”. They do things like play football on The Mall, then document it, along with other pointless, self-absorbed “protest” activities.
David Sherry has issues with touching things. “In France, touching has become unsophisticated,” says a page from a printer, spewing out sketches and sheets of handwritten text. In his short film, Stitching, he thoughtfully shows us how to sew balsa wood to your bare feet.
Rosalind Nashashibi makes understated 16mm films about “inactivity or rest, whether it be chosen or forced”. Her short, The States Of Things, of elderly women at a Glaswegian jumble sale, set to an Egyptian love song, is one of the few highlights of the show.
As is Save Yourself, by New Zealand sculptor Francis Upritchard. She’s torn up some of the ground-floor gallery’s floorboards and placed a small, vibrating mummy on the earth beneath. Note: for the full effect it’s best to ignore the accompanying glass case of amateurish preparatory drawings.
Digital artist Nick Crowe has constructed a “ball of websites” called The World Wars, in which he imagines the Earth under constant armed attack. You can see all 74 sites for yourself via www.the-world-wars.co.uk, although be sure to have a screen break once an hour.
So-called public interventionist, Lucy Skaer can’t even give her work away. “Please take a poster,” reads the sign above four photographs that document her recent projects. These include placing a scorpion and a diamond left to their own devices on a Dutch pavement, and, er, contriving a symmetrical wine spill.
Carey Young is probably the dullest of all. Her video in which she’s taught by a management consultant to say “I am a revolutionary” is as interesting as it sounds. Topped only by Non-Disclosure Agreement (an idea stolen from the conceptual artists Lawrence Weiner) - a framed copy of a contract which prevents one of her works from being disclosed to the public. If only she’d done the same with the rest of it.
If this is the future of British art, then let’s all drown our sorrows when the winner’s announced on 29 April. Beck’s anyone? Jonathan Carter 11 April 03
Beck’s Futures 2003 is at the ICA, London, until 18 May 03.
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The best of cinema in the UK from 2002 to 2008.