Turner Prize 2014 delivers elitist spectacle we have come to expect

By Mark Sheerin | 02 September 2014

Mark Sheerin finds an artist offering a refreshing change in the Turner Prize 2014 at Tate Britain

a photo of a man in a gallery looking at colourful walls with the framed words ok
Ciara Phillips, Things Shared (2014)© Ciara Phillips, courtesy Tate Photography
It can never be easy comparing unlike with unlike and awarding the most high profile award in the art world. But this year judges have a particular hard task in the Turner Prize: one candidate is such a refreshing change from the rest, she is a shoe-in. Or she must be pointedly ignored.

Either way, in 2014, the £25,000 prize is Ciara Phillips’s to lose. Her gallery at Tate Britain is a bold, bright, cheery break from the darkness needed to host her competition (all three are filmmakers). The walls are papered with CMYK colours, photographic details and interesting textures.

She is a printmaker. She works in collaboration with community groups. She is influenced by art-loving nun Sister Corita Kent. Hers is a practice whose time has surely come. If the Turner Prize is sometimes criticised for being elitist, Phillips is the perfect riposte.

But those critics are for the most part washing their hands of this year’s prize. The ever-present Stuckists have withdrawn their protest this year on the grounds that the Tate panel has sunk to a “predictable and pathetic level”. Still they stood in the rain on press day, flyering journalists.

To be honest it is difficult to put up much defence for the other three artists. The screenings were by turns psychologically awkward (James Richards), wry yet bewildering (Tris Vonna-Michell) and lastly, perhaps, too serious for its own good (Duncan Campbell).

Richards' film is claustrophobic, bringing you a mite too close to various intimate body parts, blown up in HD, and tracing a path across them with a sprig of elderflower. The effect is quite powerful, mentally ticklish and yet quit de trop. The close-up anus is going to put a lot of people off.

Keith Haring fans may like the half a dozen blankets which feature the iconic New York artist lining up with an array of dealers and lovers. The result is unofficial Haring merchandise, quite unlike the tens of thousands of t-shirts and mugs which have disseminated this artist’s work.

It is easier to warm to Tris Vonna-Michell, who comes across as a breathless storyteller who will take you on a journey you might not fully understand. His performances are live improvisations and in the current show we have a recording of his quest to find French sound poet Henri Chopin.

But there’s another story behind this presentation. Gallery notes, which are copious and welcome, tell us that as a student he embarked on a self-imposed exile in Leipzig. Over the course of a month he photographed and then shredded a suitcase full of childhood photos. Now that’s a backstory.

Duncan Campbell also has an interesting CV. Before now he has made work about his compatriot Bernadette Devlin and the local unhappy story of DeLorean Motors. His show at Tate Britain brings in Sigmar Polke, Michael Clark and a much reproduced image of guerllia warfare. No issues with his references.

But his main film here, It for Others, is 54 minutes long and makes no attempt to convey excitement. The dance section is particularly slow moving and left me none the wiser about Volume 1 of Capital by Karl Marx. There is plenty of substance here, but Campbell doesn’t really connect.

Having said that, he will probably win. Then the Turner Prize can maintain itself as the ‘elitist’ spectacle we know and love.

  • Turner Prize 2014 is at Tate Britain until January 4 2015. Open 10am-6pm (10pm Friday and Saturday, closed December 24-26). Tickets £6-£11 (free for under-12s), book online.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

a photo of two people peering at illuminated light box displays with photographs
Tris Vonna-Michell, Addendum I (Finding Chopin: Dans l’Essex) (2014)© Tris Vonna-Michell, courtesy Tate Photography
a photo of three people watching in art film in a darkened room
Duncan Campbell, It for Others (2013)© Duncan Campbell, courtesy Tate Photography
an installation shot of four cinema screens
James Richards, The Screens (2013)© James Richards, courtesy Tate Photography
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