26 September 2018 – 6 January 2019
FREE ENTRY for the first 25 days for anyone under 25
£13 from 21 October onwards
This year, Tate Britain hosts its prestigious Turner Prize Nominee-exhibition in an open, almost cozy, living-room-like set-up. Comfortable grey couches in the centre of the room surround a coffee table stacked with books: classics like John Berger’s Way of Seeing, but also political volumes about this year’s contestants’ topics grace the table. It is an invitation: to discuss, to learn, and to engage.
The exhibition consists of four entrances to the works of the nominees: Naeem Mohaiemen, Luke Willis Thompson, Charlotte Prodger, and Forensic Architecture. This is the first year that the Turner prize features primarily moving-image works, all four consisting of at least one film piece, if not more. For an event known for its controversy, it doesn't come as a surprise that all four contestants exhibit works highlighting complex socio-political issues.
Starting from the left side of the room, Charlotte Prodger presents BRIDGIT, an excessive autobiographical work that is both a love letter to the Scottish Countryside as well as a call of attention to queer history and the exploration of queer identity. The entire work is filmed on her Iphone, for which the camera quality is surprisingly good. Prodger’s work is calming and dreamlike, but can be too lengthy at times. The set-up is similar to that of a cinema theatre, which adds to the calming ambiance of Prodger’s work.
The next work in the room is by Luke Willis Thompson, who replicated Andy Warhol’s famous 16mm techniques for his three film pieces (changed to 35mm for the Turner prize exhibition). His works all focus on different issues, from an artistic “sister image” of a broadcasting of police violence in the US (autoportrait) to the abstract interpretation of a sculpture made out of human skin (_Human). The topics, both macabre and violent, are contrasted by the empty space between the screen and the projector: it creates room for a moment of silence.
Forensic Architecture also explores the topic of violence in their mixed media presentation. Their work is an exhibition in its own: the viewer walks into a dark room, with a bend screen towards the corner, and two smaller entrances that lead to a different room which showcases Forensic Architecture’s research. The film in the first room is played out in a small space, leading to a confronting intimacy in the experience of the footage. The work, titled The Long Duration of a Split Second, displays camera footage of the killing in Umm al-Hiran, on 18 January 2017, combined with a cgi construction of the location.
The second room of Forensic Architecture’s work is decorated as a meta-exhibition. News articles and social media announcements grace the walls, in the chronological order of FA’s research. It is accompanied by FA’s personal notes and later findings — for example, a footnote in film footage they notice only later on in the research process. This carefully executed combination of personal and professional gives the viewer a rare and sensible look into the process of forensic research. The political information is a lot to take in at once, especially if the viewer is not familiar with the topic yet. However, the fateful terror of violence is a universal experience that, in such a confronting setting, is able to terrify you to your very soul, regardless of your knowledge of the situation.
Last but not least, Naeem Mohaimen effectively confronts and informs the viewer with two 90-minute films and a booklet including his great-uncle’s poetry. As an artist of Bangladeshi background, Mohaimen opens up the conversation about global politics and non-western politics. His first film, Tripoli Cancelled, is an otherworldly piece of fictional storytelling about a man who lives in an abandoned airport for ten years. It explores the isolation of modernity, as well as the indefinite wait for stability. Mohaimen’s second work is a triptych documentary. His clean-cut style and smooth transitioning over the three used screens is almost satisfying to observe, despite the topics. Two Meetings and a Funeral examines the power struggles between the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Orginization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after the second world war. Its specific topic can be challenging to focus on as an outside viewer, but Mohaimen’s storytelling drags you in and immerses you in a new world. Despite the tragic topic, the film possesses a peaceful execution in terms of cinematography and (in most cases) background music. Mohaimen also published a fold-out booklet for his trilogy, containing musings and essays by his great Uncle, Syed Mujtaba Ali. It combines the political with the personal through art, personal stories and fiction, and the emotional value of the written word does not fail to move the viewer.
All four contestants for this year’s Turner prize highlight specific contemporary political issues, executed through both innovative and classic tools. Despite the possibly sensitive topics, all four handled it with precise care and a passion that is undeniably honest. Tate rarely disappoints in the presentation of its artists, and this new exhibition is an experience an art lover should not miss.