Turner Prize 2011
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art
Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road
Gateshead, NE8 3BA
21st October to 8th January 2012
Once the mainstay of the London contemporary art calendar, this year the Turner Prize has traveled to the north-east, and for the first time in its twenty-seven year history it is hosted by a non-Tate venue, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. While the prize has courted plenty of controversy in its almost three decades of existence, the recent decision to hold the annual exhibition outside of the city of its birth every other year should not be seen as a point of contention. The display at BALTIC has breathed new life into the prize, which has often felt overwhelmed by Tate Britain’s vast rooms. Within the post-industrial space at BALTIC, the Turner Prize has found the perfect home, the four rooms feel more intimate and welcoming, giving a refined and fresh focus to the prize.
The first room at BALTIC is given over to Martin Boyce, who has created a cerebral installation that draws inspiration from influences ranging from Modernist design to the meeting of nature and industry. Boyce’s main work Beyond the Repetition of High Windows, Intersecting flight Paths and Opinions (A Silent Storm is Painted on Air) (2011) is inspired by an image of four concrete trees made for a Modernist garden by the French designers Joel and Jan Martel, first shown in Paris at the 1925 Exposition des Art Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. At BALTIC the ‘trees’ are wrought in steel with individual white leaves suspended from the ceiling to create a canopy that fractures the light. Clustered around two large columns (part of the original architecture of the gallery) the installation uses the space organically, even the white of the leaves match the white of the paint on the columns and the gallery walls. The meticulous attention to detail in the installation is evident literally from floor to ceiling, from the re-designed coverings of the heating grates to the white-steel leaves that are suspended from the ceiling, and the brown folded paper leaves that litter the floor. The connections between the objects in the gallery are multi-layered; the interest in design and form flows from the angular shape of the white-steel leaves to the angular typeface used on the painting Songs (2011).
The second room belongs to Hillary Lloyd, who makes work that engages in various ways with the moving image, encompassing video projections, films on monitors, and slide projections. In her practice, Lloyd foregrounds technical equipment as a sculptural medium, prominently displaying the AV equipment on which her work is installed. While looking at Moon (2011), a dual screen video projection silhouetted against a vast open window, I was struck by the many ways in which Lloyd’s work subtly asks us to contemplate the way we see the world. The juxtaposition of the LCD monitors against the glass window set up a dichotomy between digital and nature, and between the ‘past’ – or ‘pre-recorded’ – video and the ‘present’ outside the window. These various juxtapositions are given further depth within the work itself; each screen is divided into twenty-one individual frames that change freely from each other, displaying a number of tightly cropped images of the moon in the sky or the reflection of moonlight on buildings. The original location of these images is not important here, but the angles, the framing of the images, a way of seeing with a camera, a displacement from the way our eyes usually ‘see’ is brought to the fore. Finally, the simple fact that Lloyd chose to fill her room with natural light challenges our preconceived notions about how we view cinema in a theatre or even video within a gallery – both activities associated with darkness and the projection of light.
Following Lloyd is the work of Karla Black. While Black describes her work as painting, it could equally be called sculpture or installation. Yet these questions of medium are in many ways irrelevant, for what Black’s work foregrounds is both artistic process and the act of viewing a work of art as an immersive, active experience, as sensory and visceral as the process of making the work itself. Created specifically for BALTIC, Doesn’t Care in Words (2011) is a monumental piece that dominates the entire room. The work confronts the viewer at the entrance with sheets of polystyrene covered in cracked and falling paint that force the viewer to slide along the wall to enter the room. In the main gallery space, the work falls in cascading folds and twists from the ceiling before swirling across the floor. Bits of thin painted strips of paper and polystyrene hang tentatively by thin stripes of cellophane tape from the ceiling and walls. In contradiction to its apparent transience, the work commands the space it inhabits, taking over the room to such an extent that the viewer is pushed to the peripheries of the gallery.
The final room is devoted to the paintings of George Shaw. Shaw paints the landscape of his adolescent life. His scenes are all taken from within a half-mile radius of his childhood home on the Till Hill estate, Coventry. His paintings are always devoid of the human figures and are instead populated by details of suburban infrastructure. Yet these photorealistic, concrete landscapes are more than mere recordings of Shaw’s surroundings. A closer look at Shaw’s materials, Humbrol enamel, a paint traditionally used by young model makers, and even at his use of perspective, which is composed along lines of symmetry rather than more traditional rules of composition, reveal layers of childish awkwardness in his paintings that play against the apparent glossy perfection of the image. Shaw’s often brash and comical titles, such as Shut Up (2011) and The Same Old Crap (2011), do more than simply lighten the mood, they add a psychological depth to his somber paintings; the scenes may be empty, dark, and brooding but they are also the setting for playful adolescent memories of pranks and jokes.
While the 2011 Turner Prize shortlist may on paper appear too ‘safe’; a list compiled to fit with all the rules, evenly balanced with two male and two female artists who work across a range of media from traditional paint to video. But the artists in this shortlist will prove the skeptics wrong. BALTIC has rejuvenated the prize, which can now in its maturity invite more debate than pure scandal and critique.
Anne Blood is the Assistant Editor of The Burlington Magazine and the Contributing Art Editor for .Cent. She lives in London.view all articles from this author