Turner Prize 2015 review: "Back to its bold and provocative best"

By Mark Sheerin | 08 October 2015

Mark Sheerin reviews The Turner Prize 2015, at Tramway, Glasgow, until January 17 2016

a photo of a small choir standing in a gallery
Janice Kerbel, DOUG (2014)© Copyright with Keith Hunter Photography
If last year the Turner Prize disappeared into an obscure nether region, it is, as if by some conjuring trick, back to its bold and provocative best. The 2015 Glasgow edition will once again confound those who come along only to condemn the work on show as ‘Not art’.

And perhaps it is not, or at least not until now. Only one of the shortlist makes anything you would recognise as painting or sculpture. Instead we have social enterprise, choral performance, and what appears as the study room from a lunatic asylum.

Let us begin with the sculpture. Nicole Wermers is represented here by two pieces, Untitled Chairs and Sequence #G. The first consists of designer chairs with fur coats stitched around the backrest; the second comprises a number of enlarged noticeboard ads with tear strips, made in ceramic.

a photo of a gallery room with chairs adorned with fur coats
Nicole Wermers, Installation (2015)© Keith Hunter Photography
Background notes inform us that, rather than just a comic scene filled with warm and tactile seating arrangements, this is a comment on the role of design in the city and the exclusion of women from the discipline’s history.  The irony here is that the most traditional art in this year’s show is also the most oblique.

From here on in, it gets interesting. Without her track record as a highly committed artist, you might dismiss Janice Kerbel as a musical dilettante. Indeed her contribution to the show is a hifalutin choral piece, with classically trained singers and a rhyme-filled narrative in nine mood-shifting parts.

Just as Italian operas need subtitles, Kerbel’s lyrics are framed on the wall and the artfulness of this composition becomes clear. Rather than a Madame Butterfly or a Don Giovanni, this very polished performance is about an anti-hero called Doug, whose life is characterised by a run of catastrophic bad luck.

a photo of a room with benches, craft materials wall decorations etc
Assemble, A Showroom for Granby Workshop (2015)© Keith Hunter Photography
This high art is soon balanced by some grassroots artisanship. For several reasons, the collective known as Assemble should have no place on the shortlist of an art prize. For a start there are 18 of them; and secondly they are social activists more interested in urban regeneration than the goings on in galleries.

Assemble may be outsiders, and they may well trouble the jury. Their display here includes a replica house in which you can shop for household furnishings made on a deprived street in Liverpool.

It’s anti-art in its way; but the straightforward idea is executed well. The marbled lampshades and the handmade doorknobs are better looking than most of those you will find on the high street.

So far, so worthwhile. But for unsettling subversion Bonnie Camplin should perhaps take the prize. She is not the first artist to assemble a library of books, film and print outs. Nor is she the first to dally with conspiracy theories and comparisons have been made to Susan Hiller.

a photo of a room with monitors and rows of desks against the walls
Bonnie Camplin, Patterns (2015)© Keith Hunter Photography
But by presenting her material with no filter she draws you further into the margins of reality than anything previously seen. You are invited to sit down, study and photocopy.

Her well-organised archive ranges from radical philosophers like Foucault to theorists of ESP and extra-dimensional beings. The way Camplin conflates her sources is compelling and the weight of evidence for the occult accumulates as you work your way around the room. You’ve got to admire Camplin’s psychological bravery because spend too long in here and it could tip you over the edge.

If anyone is still surprised that you can visit a gallery to read, shop or listen to music, they may not be won over by this exhibition. But if you accept that the Turner Prize should look outwards and be permeable to the most interesting activities of artists in Britain, you will be galvanised and inspired by the work in Glasgow this year.
  • Admission free. Open 10am-6pm  daily (until 8pm Thursday).
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