The Turner Prize 2019 has been awarded to all four shortlisted artists, Oscar Murillo, Tai Shani, Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Helen Cammock, after they formed a collective so they could all win. The four nominees apparently made the decision when they met at the exhibition opening in September, agreeing that the nature of all of their work was at odds with the divisive and individualistic competition format. They proposed their wishes to the Tate and the Turner Prize jury, and last night their agreement was announced live on the BBC by Vogue UK editor Edward Enninful, at the prize-giving ceremony at Dreamland in Margate. As such, each artist will receive £10,000, as opposed to the usual £25,000 prize given to the winner and £5,000 to each runner-up.
On their joint win – which is a first in the history of the coveted prize – the winners said they wanted to make a collective statement in this divisive political era. Their joint letter to the jury said: “At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity – in art as in society.”
At the ceremony, Cammock read a statement from the group, which said: “This year the jury have selected a group of artists who are all engaged in forms of social or participatory practice. We believe when grouped together such practices become incompatible with the competition format whose tendency is to divide and to individualise.”
“Placing in contention the issues in our work would undermine our individual artistic efforts to show a world entangled. The issues we each deal with are as inseparable as climate chaos is from capitalism. We each seek to use art to push the edges of issues, mapping the bleed of one into another across time, across sectionalities, across the realm of the real and the imagined, and through walls and borders.”
Oscar Murillo’s work for the Turner Prize exhibition saw him fill rows of benches with 20 larger-than-life-size paper mâché human effigies, which all sit gazing at a large window that has been obscured by a black canvas. Co-curator Fiona Parry commented that the piece explores “the political and social situation in the UK at the moment,” and, as Murillo himself puts it, “the darkness of our contemporary moment”. Many of the characters have metal cylinders in place of their bellies, filled with corn and clay loaves that represent the fuel of the industrial class and, in turn, the “insidiousness of the system they’re trapped in”.
Tai Shani’s gaudy and surrealist installation features an assemblage of items, including a giant drooping, velvet-clad arm, and a large architectural model of the mythlogical “City of Ladies”. Purposely dense and conceptual, the work is a bold feminist statement asking us to consider a world without the patriarchy.
Helen Cammock’s central piece, a film called The Long Note, investigates the history and role of women in the civil rights movement in Derry Londonderry in 1968 – seen as a starting point of the Troubles. In the film she interviews women who were active in the movement and, in turn, amplifies voices that have rarely been in the spotlight of the discourse around Northern Ireland’s conflict.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s compelling works focus on his exploration of sound, how it can be used to fill in gaps in narrative, and how our perception of certain sounds are warped by popular culture. One of three films shown at the Turner Prize exhibition is titled Saydnaya, and explains the artist’s process for collecting “ear-witness” accounts from survivors of the Saydnaya prison in Syria – where inmates were forced to live in silence and blindfolded, so most of the survivors’ memories rely on sounds.
Read more about each artist’s work in our full review of the exhibition.
The Turner Prize exhibition is open at the Turner Contemporary, Margate until 12 January 2020.
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