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turner prize 2004
turner prize 2004

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2003 turner winner

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The real world invades this year’s prize.

The defining ingredient of the Turner Prize is usually a generous spoonful of tabloid controversy. But this year’s shortlisted artists have created a quieter exhibition, and one, dare I say it, that seems more concerned with serious things in the real world than Turner shows of recent years.

Unearthing modern history via means of videos, photos and event organizing is Brit Jeremy Deller. Pieces like Five Memorials, commemorative commissions of people and events such as a wall hanging for the landing of the Empire Windrush which brought labourers from Jamaica to the UK in 1948, display a light touch that leaves ideas lingering in the mind. Travelogue-style film, Memory Bucket, shot on a journey through Texas, centres on the towns Waco and Crawford, George Bush’s home town. Heavy with associations, the places are represented through the media glare, but also via personal accounts which draw attention away from the hype and headlines. Deller delves into local histories, often revealing their subtler aspects, giving them new resonance.

Squarely in the Video Nation tradition of handheld cameras and talking heads are Kutlug Ataman’s six video projections, Twelve. Sitting intimately next to lifesize projections of interviewees, we learn about the previous lives of six inhabitants from an area of Turkey that experienced civil war in the 80s and 90s, and where belief in reincarnation is common. The stories are involving, mostly about growing up and knowing they had parents other than their own, of current lives and previous offspring. Their identities become blurred as language becomes confused, trying to describe things beyond the limits of our ordinary beliefs. Exploring ideas of identity and language, Ataman pushes against the limitations of speech.

Untitled, Jerry Deller and The House of Osama bin Laden, Langlands & Bell

The most attention grabbing piece by Langlands & Bell, The House Of Osama Bin Laden, takes us on a tour of the world’s most wanted man’s house prior to 11 September 01. Dispatched to post-war Afghanistan in 2002, the pair took photos of the house and, using gaming technology, created a landscape that viewers are free to explore. The experience feels distant from most games and the plain structures take on significance in bin Laden’s physical absence, reminding us of Al Qaeda’s awareness of the symbolism of architecture. Using conceptual symbols such as the acronyms of international airports and Non-Governmanetal Organisations (NGOs), Langlands & Bell present a picture of Afghanistan without military presence but plenty of power struggles.

Using “African” materials, Yinka Shonibare injects a welcome dash of colour and theatricality. The fabrics, actually designed and made in Holland, are used as symbols of African-ness to examine social and cultural identities. In Maxa, a collection of painted fabric circles underpinned with clinical modernist theory, he adds not only decoration and pattern but issues of Western society’s relationship with the developing world. The Swing (After Fragonard) presents a familiar image recreated in 3-D. But the swinging lady is now headless, dressed in batik fabric covered with the Chanel logo, and her original companions are missing. Superficially flirtatious and decadent, she’s a darker reminder of where colonial aristocratic wealth actually came from.

Personally, my money would go on Langlands & Bell, with Deller a close second. I might be wrong as Ladbroke’s have Deller down as evens favourite, but with prize money doubled to a total of £40,000 this year, it’s a dead cert that one of them is going to be quids in soon.

Rowan Kerek 22 October 04
The Turner Prize 2004 is at Tate Britain until 23 December 04. The award ceremony will be live on Channel 4 at 8pm, 06 December 04.
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