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Turner Prize 2005: political art or easy journalism?

Jeremy Deller, 'Bats', courtesy of Tate Britain

The works of the four finalists of the Turner 2005 will be shown in the Tate Britain until the 23rd of December. Despite the controversy caused by the excess of political implication of the artists and the exclusive predominance of the audiovisual media, the works of Yinka Shonibare, Langlands & Bell, Kutlug Ataman and especially that of Jeremy Deller are interesting and elaborate.
In fact, this year's Turner does have as its focus the audivisual media: the four artists present videos related to the present, with obvious political connotations. Deller (London,1966) has been selected for his work Memory Bucket: a film about Texas, a documentary in which Texans talk openly about various topics, such as the Waco massacre or the gastronomic preferences of George W. Bush when he eats at the diner in his home town, Crawford. Deller does not intend to broadcast propaganda - the work was finished before the US elections - but to show us the complexity of the world through an examination of the micro-culture of Texas. The last few minutes of the video show a flock of bats emerging out of a litter nest. It is dusk and thousands of them appear to be flying tidily in the same direction. But the camera zoom, and the deafening sound of the flopping wings, reveal that they flutter and crash into each other. Adopting an apocalyptic tone, Deller reminds us that this is the way the mob behaves.

Kultug Ataman, 'Twelve' Video, Courtesy of Tate Gallery

In the six hanging screens which form the video installation Twelve, the Turkish artist Ataman shows scenes involving some members of a Sirian sect, a sect which fervently believes in reincarnation. They are delighted to be able to tell how they lived their former lives and how they try to integrate it into their second one. "You don't know whether you should talk to your son like a father or like a friend. We are all the same age", admits a re-born in the same casual tone he would use to talk about football.
In the next hall is the installation of Langland & Bell, an artist couple. The installation includes a digital reconstruction of Bin Laden´s house made during a journey to Afghanistan in October 2002. The work of Langland & Bell has been characterized by the exploration of the relationship between individuals and architecture. In this installation, a joystick allows the visitor to make a virtual trip through every corner of the terrorist´s shelter, to imagine the sudden appearance of a Taliban warrior armed to the teeth and ready to attack. Seconds later, the illusion disappears: this is not a Nintendo game but a work of art. The frustration is even greater when discovering that the parallel installation - a film about the trial of one of the Warlords - has been pulled out of the exhibition for interfering with the trial of another Afghani, which is currently being judged in London. The audience can just hear the sad and melancoly voice of a mullah praying in front of the supreme court, captured on tape by the artists during their journey through Afghanistan.

Tinka Shonibare,'Un ballo in Maschera', courtesy of Tate Britain

The last space is given to Shonibare, an artist born in London and educated in Nigeria, who describes himself as a post-colonial hybrid. His obsession for 18th century art and african textiles is the base of his audiovisual installation Un Ballo in Maschera. The video reproduces the death of Gustav III. of Sweden, assasinated in 1792, amidst the action of a masked ball. The dancers dance in silence, dressed in roccoco robes made of colourful african material which, paradoxically, is made in Holland. Shonibare puts the finger in the sore by emphasising the rebirth of this colonial manufacturing process.
Leave film to filmmakers was a visitors comment when leaving the exhibition. He may be right. But it must be taken into account that the jury of the Turner do not only reward a work of art but also the whole artistic career of an artist. The award is for the artist's capacity for exploration and his creativity regardless of the media he or she uses. Compared to former years "the political committment is very important this year. It is good to see the artists having a look beyond the art world and their lives", asserted Stephen Deuchar, director of the Tate Britain. This does not mean that the artists have to become journalists. The prize willl go to the one who is best able to translate his / her thoughts into a visual language and to contribute new ideas to reflect on.

Texte : Andrea Rodés
Traduction : Maria Caballos
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