The four artists in hot competition to scoop not just international acclaim but also the not inconsiderable sum of £40,000, are Dexter Dalwood, Angela de la Cruz, Susan Philipsz and the Otolith Group. But visiting the Tate Britain to see the four contesting projects, I was bewildered by the selection policy, so vast, irregular and irrational was the terrain covered by the works exhibited.
It is important to quickly note here that the Turner Prize is presented annually to the best visual work produced by a British artist under the age of fifty in the previous twelve months. Note visual.
Susan Philipsz’s work consists of a sound-piece entitled Lowlands, where she sings plaintive versions of a sixteenth century Scottish lament about a drowned lover who returns to wail in the ear of his sweetheart about their uncoupling for all eternity.
This makes for melancholic listening, but it is hard to see how it constitutes ‘visual art.’ The organisers try to get around the palpable lack of a visual dimension by claiming that Philipsz is: ‘engaged with the notion of singing as a physical and sculptural experience.’ Her work is described as a ‘sound installation.’ But in reality it is just a sound. Music is not visual art. All music resonates in space, but why is Philipsz’s special? And if the Turner Prize is open to musical entrants, then why can’t any of the bands or composers producing music over the previous twelve months be nominated?
The Otolith Group– consisting of Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar- produced the most intellectually stimulating piece in the competition, but again it was hard to justify its inclusion in a contest of visual art. Tellingly, both members of the group have their backgrounds in writing and theory.
Here they exhibit an old documentary made many years ago on the legacy of Greek history, which plays on dozens of small screens around the room. On one large screen they air a film they have made which tells the story of a group of characters from a film script. The real film script was made in India in the sixties, but was shelved and never produced.
In the Otolith film the cast of the Indian script rebel, leaving it to confront the director and demand why he refused to make them into a movie.
Again we must ask, if films are valid entrants to the Turner Prize, then why exclude any of the excellent ones produced annually in this country? Why did Slumdog Millionaire, a vastly more worthy creative endeavour than anything featured in this year’s contest, not get nominated for the Turner Prize?
The third candidate for the prize is Angela de la Cruz. Her work was markedly the worst exhibited. With apt titles like Clutter and Super Clutter, it consisted of monochrome canvases dumped twisted on the floor, filing cabinets stuck to the wall, and a chair placed on top of a stool.
I overheard fellow viewers muttering to one another about ‘challenging people’s perceptions.’ This is meaningless in the context. For practical reasons filing cabinets are normally placed on the floor. This one was stuck to the wall. So what? Meretricious art at its worst.
So that leaves Dexter Dalwood. He may not be Rembrandt, but at least he displayed canvases. One of them – Death of David Kelly – was actually affecting, an eerie and lonely piece of work alluding to the eponymous casualty of the Blair years.
So if Susan Philipsz contributed music, the Otolith Group produced a film, and Angela de la Cruz’s offering doesn’t qualify as art of any variety, then I suppose that leaves little choice as to the winner. The 2010 Turner Prize should go to Dexter Dalwood by default. We will find out if common sense prevails on the 6th of December 2010, live on Channel 4.