In the run up to the opening of 2018’s Turner Prize exhibition, Tate curators Linsey Young and Elsa Coustou shared their thoughts on this year’s shortlisted artists and the work they will be exhibiting
2018’s Turner Prize nominees have much in common. They all take inter-disciplinary approaches to their art; they all embrace technology in ever-more creative ways; and, not content to merely comment on the world, they also seek ways to provide and present the proof which lies beneath each of their visions.
“There is further unity,” Linsey Young points out, “in how familial or community histories run through all of the artists’ work, and are really major concerns.”
“This is really key.” Coustou agrees, “They all seem to look deep into the individual, yourself, the artist, and society in general.”
Forensic Architecture are perhaps the most unusual nominees of the bunch — a collective of professionals based at the University of London, focusing on human rights abuses around the world, developing innovative methods for both sourcing and visualising evidence – to be used in courts of law, as well as in exhibitions of art and architecture.
Counter Investigations, the ICA exhibition for which they were nominated, has been re-configured for the Tate. “We have a different audience.” Young explains. “So we needed to think about how to pare down some of what they do to make a simple and impactful presentation. One of the important things about the cases we have chosen, is that they represent almost all of the methodologies that Forensic Architecture use, which is something we were very keen on doing.”
The selected case was originally based on a brief to look at the Naqab Desert, between Palestine and Israel, and specifically at issues of land use and land rights in Bedouin communities. It is based on the events of a single day, when a village was being cleared by Israeli policemen — something not unusual in itself. On this particular day however, a woman from the activist documentary group Active Stills was filming. The footage is dark, confusing, and frightening; it is unclear what is going on. But by the end both a police officer and a villager were dead. By using the footage, and applying their technological capacities for procuring, analysing and assessing data, Foreign Architecture were able to make a case for what happened that day.
Glasgow-based artist Charlotte Prodger uses a very different range of technologies as she documents her life and journeys. For her Turner Prize installation, she uses her iPhone as an intuitive way of filming — an instrument that connects to her physically in a way that traditional cameras do not. She explains it as leaving a trace of her body in the work itself. Projected on to a massive screen, you can feel her breathing or you can hear when the microphone is too overwhelmed. The footage is intimate, immediate and raw.
The film is called ‘Bridgit’ — a name taken from the Celtic deity, referencing Prodger’s experiences growing up in the north of Scotland, an area with Neolithic stone circles. As with most of her art, Prodger looks at space, time and queer identity, and explores themes such as misrepresentation and labelling. She layers her work here with voiceovers from people who mean something to her. Her interest in community is present as she explores notions of separatism: lesbian separatism, radical Scottish Independence with its socialist overtones, and what that means in relation to Brexit. These messages lie at the forefront of her work, and are what drives the film’s narrative, creating a deeply affecting and personal piece.
The third shortlisted artist, Naeem Mohaiemen, is a writer and filmmaker who uses a variety of cameras and mediums, and who bases much of his work on documentary film and video archives. Born in London, he returned to Bangladesh with his family after independence in 1971. Those experiences shape his work, as he combines personal memories with discoveries in historical archives; his work looks back at the 1970s and ‘80s, at socialism and at the end of colonialism.
Mohaiemen’s installation will show two feature-length films; one a documentary, the other his first work of fiction. The fictional film, which Coustou describes as “extremely poetic, and very contemplative,” is about a man who has been stranded for ten years, existing in an in-between state — still eating and exercising, singing, talking to himself. The narrative is based on an experience Mohaiemen’s father once had, becoming stranded whilst travelling between Delhi and Tripoli; it also takes inspiration from a film shot in the abandoned Elhnikon airport in Athens, which was recently used to house refugees.
In a contrasting piece, Mohaiemen is producing a small booklet based on work he has previously shown, including a series of texts and photographs tracing his investigation of his great uncle, a famous writer in Bangladesh, and into the surprising writings he discovered, which link back to a broader narrative about post-colonial history.
The final artist of this year’s quartet, Luke Willis Thompson, will present a trilogy of films based on people who have been through social or racial violence, especially police violence.
The first film is a diptych, portraying two men — one a son, and one a grandson of women killed as a result of police violence. Thompson came across these stories whilst researching police violence and riots in London, choosing to create portraits of the victims through their descendants.
The second film is of Diamond Reynolds, created as a sister piece to contrast against the infamous smartphone footage she took in the aftermath of her boyfriend’s death in a police shooting in Minnesota. Thanks to that footage, the incident was witnessed around the world; Thompson’s film focuses on the life that remains.
The third film in the loop is a piece based on the work of Donald Rodney, a talented British artist who died of sickle cell anaemia in 1998. During his illness, Rodney went through many operations; after one of them, he decided to keep some of his skin and make it into a tiny sculpture of a house. Now housed in the Tate’s collection, the sculpture is too fragile to display. But Thompson managed to film it with a special 35mm camera, and make it visible to the point where you feel you could be looking at a cathedral. One scene from the film circles Rodney’s sculpture as a surveillance camera would — referencing yet another recent police shooting, this time in California.
Thompson has also superimposed his own history onto his work, by including references to his own genetic code, and his family’s history of Huntington’s disease, in the sequencing of the film.