The cream of new contemporary art I hear you cry! Why yes here it is, the Turner Prize. And this year we have one oldie, a Mr Wright who has given a rather restrained response, Lucy Skaer who has given a mathematical, clean-cut, cultural experience, Ernesto David who will hurl us deep into the dark realms of his subconscious and Roger Hiorns who has continued to nurture his modern day momento mori theme into several distinguished pieces.
An interesting foursome then, and a difficult decision for the judges. Skaer has given us works in a variety of mediums. Brancusi’s ‘Bird in Space’ is reproduced 26 times in coal and resin to create ‘Black Alphabet (2008)’. The sculptures are placed carefully into rows, but some of the individual sculptures are clearly missing from the lines, in a sort of diminishing sequence. The remaining are placed in the corner, stacked up sideways like freshly cut logs hacked away from the regimented cubed forest in front of them. An antique wooden chair is displayed near by. Below the chair is a pile of bank notes with a printed image of glasses of water on them, a red triangular object in on the floor next to them. The chair’s parts have been deconstructed and printed in black ink onto a sheet of white paper forming illegible words, confirmed as such by the use of commas and apostrophes as something you could almost grasp as readable language but not quite. She has also been loaned a real sperm whale’s skull from a Scottish museum which is displayed through small openings in white walls, displacing the viewer’s experience, giving us just a glimpse of something impressive. She is reordering the museum experience and restructuring but not dislocating it from what it was. She has not violently ripped apart culture but has restructured the logic behind it.
Richard Wright’s main piece is a wall painting in gold leaf with detailed rococo swirls and sunsets, divided from the middle outwards creating a mirror image on both sides. It took him three weeks of hard labour to create it and you might suspect there to be a print underneath which he covered over with the hand painted gold, but material described is solely gold leaf, in which case it is an impressive effort. The affect of the whole is sumptuous and detailed but resembles nice bespoke wallpaper which is a little disappointing. Previous works on walls have had more innovation to them. They had movement and they worked with the environment and layout of the space. Here we get a block square. On the opposite wall above the door there are four red star-like shapes which do little to make a further impact to the room. Could he have not at least used a corner? His work since he rediscovered painting seems to be like a picturesque version of street art, but this is not one of his better examples.
Skaer has reconstructed the meaning behind objects but Hiorns has literally ground them down into a pulp. A passenger jet engine has been pulverised into dust, a symbol of what everything in the entire world will become one day. He admits he has a fear of flying and this piece contains obvious connections between airplanes and death. The layout of the dust with peaks and troughs and light and dark patches is reminiscent of an aerial view of mountains you might get from a plane. Hung on the walls are three sculptures, two of which are ivory coloured plastic casts injected with ground-up cows’ brain. They make a free-form grouping that look like slices of vertebrae from an alien animal. The other contains cows’ brain smudged into rectangular openings to create a regimented pattern in a stainless steel frame.
The materials’ previous identity has been removed by the industrial processes Hiorns has put them through. The only thing any of his work now still posses to their past self is the tenuous connotations of death, fatality and perhaps rebirth. Hiorns’ art here is a quiet and thoughtful conceptualism.
Ernesto David who some would describe as a latter-day Surrealist has made a long black stage stretching across the span of the room. A black cloth doll stretches across the entire length, its legs fall over various canvases and props, painted with eerie figures outlined in white and red on black. The doll could represent himself asleep and the props around him his dreams. Papier-mâché balloon men with faces resembling a young pouting George Michael, and a painting of faceless builders showing their arses provocatively are just some of the other motifs involved in creating this semi-nightmare world. It would help you to know that David is ‘in’ to gay pornography if you didn’t already. Inventive and slightly disturbing like all our dreams this piece is totally subjective to the viewers own experiences. If the Turner Prize is a good indication of shifts in trend then you could say that like the other three artists this year, David’s art is not sensationalist, the aim is not to be shocking or commercial, although it is an ‘uneasy’ consumption.
All of which asks the question are we moving into a subtle and more aesthetically appreciative period, with less emphasis on the sensational?