Tramway is a well-chosen venue for this year’s Turner Prize exhibition, Tell Me Something New. The contrast between the concrete inserts of the tram tracks and the clean minimalistic display gives an everyday feel which complements the work’s social significance. However although the setting enhances the artwork, I find the layout a little confusing. This may be intentional but it seems disconcerting all the same.
The first room hosts an installation by Nicole Wermers titled Infrastruktur; a collection of chairs with fur coats placed over them. The artist’s continued focus of consumer lifestyle and power dynamics is visible in this work. The chairs have the appearance of office furniture, but such functionality contrasts with the opulence of the fur coats draped over them. Social hierarchy is alluded to in the merging of the coats with the chairs beneath them, which also, of course, affirms the stability and status of the chairs as objects. On the walls around the chairs are painted pieces that, on first glance, look more like plastic or silicone than ceramic pieces; these appear in bright white, which endows them with a kind of permanence through their subtlety and congruence with the surrounding walls.
In the adjoining room, the video works of Bonnie Camplin are displayed. Difficult to contextualize, they incorporate a diversity of themes. The elements of ‘‘The Military Industrial Complex’’ range from recordings of psychological encounters to discussions on witchcraft and aliens. These investigative works explore collective reality from a consenting perspective, documenting multiple accounts of events many of which are questionable. The intermedial approach is in true Turner Prize tradition, pushing the boundaries of art but perhaps without the shock or drama that has featured in previous years.
Following the minimalism characteristic of the opening displays are, what are for me, the Turner Prize Exhibition’s real highlights. The work of Janice Kerbel and also the design collective, Assemble, provides a significant departure from the somewhat mechanistic feel of the previous displays. To support her nominated performance, Kerbel has mounted a printed accompaniment to Doug, consisting of nine selections of text from each song, titled “Blast”, “fall”, “Hit”, “Choke”, “Bear”, “Crash”, “Strike”, “Sink” and “Slip”,
Heel on peel
To seal the deal
Feet to sky
Life slips by (“Slip”)
The musical element consists of six classically trained singers performing the nine songs sampled above. These works, grounded in the description of life’s events and actions, take on a whimsical nature that beautifully and articulately merges sense with the nonsensical. The songs are based on disasters that form a disconcertingly physical narrative; the experiences described are of events which have occurred yet, in their compositional structure, they provide an air of implausibility that alters your perspective.
The final room contains the work of Assemble and it feels almost cluttered in contrast to the previous, somewhat sparse, exhibition areas. Deep orange lighting, combined with an installation of diverse objects, materials, and furniture creates the second immersive experience of the visit. The visual integrity of these handmade objects hints at a museum display or some kind of anthropological representation, which seem fitting as the collection is taken from an ongoing projectt to rebuild and refurbish the Granby Four Streets area of Liverpool. The use of different mediums, mostly scree, concrete and sawdust from the derelict Granby houses, reflects the project’s focus on transforming unused housing and public space. The materials bear traces of their social history while still remaining firmly in the present. This last installation seems to stand apart from the others in its complexity. Yet, along with the rest of this year’s nominations, this Turner Prize Exhibit provides many references to new kinds of social composition. This might explain Tell Me Something New as if referring to a story that is not yet complete, and probably never will be.