Turner Prize Sound Off

Turner Prize 2010. Courtesy of Tate Britain.

As the most notorious art world prize in Britain, the Turner Prize is known to ignite controversy – from Damien Hirst’s dead sheep and Martin Creed’s lights going on and off, to Tracey Emin’s drunken appearance and the expletives Madonna released on live television the year she presented the prize. However, it seems as if the Turner Prize might be growing up – emerging out of its celebrity-fueled enfant terrible stage. This year, the only foul language and flashed undergarments came from the art students protesting outside against proposed education cuts.

Within Tate Britain the works of the shortlisted artists created a quiet, contemplative, dare I say quite traditional, show – a far cry from contentious conceptual installations that dominated past exhibitions.

Dexter Dalwood, Burroughs in Tangiers, 2005. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo credit: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

Dexter Dalwood’s paintings reconstructed historical and literary scenes as imagined by the artist. The collage-like painting Burroughs in Tangiers,constructs a space for the Beat Generation writer to work – a manic space, like the literary figure himself.

Angela de la Cruz, Turner Prize 2010 Installation. Courtesy of Tate Britain.

Angela de la Cruz’s work is founded in the language of minimalism but she then tears her paintings off their stretchers to create tragic anthropomorphic figures which lie crumpled on the floor and peel away from the walls.

The Otolith Group, Turner Prize 2010 Installation. Courtesy of Tate Britain.

The Otolith Group’s installation Inner Time of Television works with video and text using historical Greece as their subject matter, challenging constructions of history and narrative structures.

Painting. Sculpture. Video. Check. Check. Check.

Arousing excitement, this year, for the very first time, the Turner Prize was awarded to a ‘Sound Artist’ – Susan Phillipsz.

Gasp. Applaud. Sigh. Yes, sound can be art. But we already knew this. Didn’t we?

Susan Phillipsz, Lowlands, 2008/2010, Glasgow. Courtesy Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. Photo: Eoghan McTigue

Susan Phillipsz’s audio installation Lowlands was originally installed outdoors under a set of bridges at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. Her warbling voice singing a sixteenth-century Scottish song travelled across the water and echoed against the architecture, transforming the space in which it was installed.

Susan Phillipsz, Lowlands, 2008/2010. Turner Prize 2010 Installation. Courtesy of David Levene, The Guardian.

Transplanted here into Tate Britain, Lowlands loses all the poetic nuances of its original environment creating a contained, sanitised experience – one that forces you to construct the environment from the inside. Lowlands, full of sentiment and emotion, runs the risk of being read (or rather heard) here as simply beautiful music. ‘Sound Art’ doesn’t seem so apt a term here – perhaps ‘Audio Installation’ is better suited.

The Turner Prize this year lacked any contentious issues that in the past have led to stimulating and heated debate. While it is fine and dandy, admirable even, to create a subtle space in which to intellectually discuss the work of these four accomplished artists, after becoming accustomed to years of controversy, quite frankly, this year’s Turner Prize Exhibition felt slightly lacklustre.

Yes, perhaps the Turner Prize is growing up, perhaps it is time to put all the crazy antics of youth behind. But it is stories of those crazy antics that we will be telling in years to come. ‘Remember when Roger Hiornes plastinated cow brains and atomised a jet engine?’ Oh, weren’t those the days…