Turner Prize 2021: a collective effort to make art radical again | Turner Prize 2021

TThe Turner Award has given us some good grades. Grayson Perry was a little-known alternative potter before this annual competition for avant-garde British art launched him as a commentator and media personality. Tracey Emin became a national sensation when she showed off her unmade bed in 1999, even though she lost to Steve McQueen – another talent for whom it was the beginning of great things.

But it’s a fair bet that no individuals will become rich or famous as a result of this year’s Turner exhibition at Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery. This is not a bit of the about 80 people I count behind the five collectives on this year’s shortlist. It’s just that you have to scan it in small print to find these people’s names yourself. The tournament has turned itself on.

Will the winner be Black Obsidian Sound System, Gentle / Radical, Project Art Works, Array Collective or Cooking Sections – and should we not care at all? For the traditional competitive spirit hardly seems relevant when it comes to collectivism. The tournament in 2019 ended with the artists sharing the prize. In 2020, the award was replaced with scholarships. It seems that competition is such an anathema for today’s young artists or is considered by the organizers to be so inappropriate that the whole idea of ​​a glamorous and controversial art prize is dying. This is not something that happens in other art forms. “Author’s Death” may have been announced some time ago, but they still win Booker.

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Still, there is friction. You could argue that this year’s shortlist is a pure distillation of everything that makes Turner different. For while awards in other arts recognize “talent” in a fairly traditional sense, the Turner – with its history of pickled cows, found recordings and professional endings – has always challenged conventional ideas of creativity. The reason it made some people furious so much 30 years ago was that it rewarded skills that apparently showed no effort or skill.

So this year’s collectivist Turner could be seen as a return to the prize’s most provocative traditions. Few people these days get upset that artists use found objects, and the idea of ​​the conceptual artist is a daily occurrence. But what about art that is not created by a single mind at all? There is a fine paradox in an art prize that abolishes the individual, a real attack on our basic assumptions about the nature of the artist.

The candidates


Black Obsidian sound system

Black Obsidian Sound System's The Only Good System Is a Soundsystem, 2021. Installation View at FACT, Liverpool Biennial, 2021.
Black Obsidian Sound Systems installation The only good system is a sound system at FACT, Liverpool Biennial, 2021. Photo: Rob Battersby / Photography

This collective of audiovisual artists welcomed its nomination by criticizing the “exploitation practices” of Tate, the Turner’s main sponsor, so expect a pointed display of a community of ‘queer, trans and non-binary blacks and colorists involved in art, healthy and radical activism’ .

An illustration from Gentle / Radical's Doorstep Revolution project in Riverside, Cardiff.
An illustration from Gentle / Radical’s Doorstep Revolution project in Riverside, Cardiff. Photo: Illustrator Beth Blandford

Cardiff’s Riverside is home to this group that wants to take root in a community. The goal is to give everyone the chance to participate in events from film screenings to performance art that knock on every door to present themselves.

Project Art Works highlights the Wilderness installation at Tate Liverpool, 2019.
Project Art Works highlights the Wilderness installation at Tate Liverpool, 2019. Photo: Andy Warner ® PAW Jarman Prize Gallery / Project Art Works

Since the 1990s, this Hastings outfit has worked with people with autism, learning, and other intellectual disabilities to create art that reflects a neurodiver’s perspective on the world. It has been widely exhibited internationally.

Array house rules from the Belfast-based Array Collective.
Array house rules from Belfast-based Array Collective. Photo: Greetings by Array

The history and religious divisions of Northern Ireland provide combustible material to the Array. It seeks to create a new, non-sectarian culture through rituals and folklore, as well as to perform and protest against abortion, LGBTQ + rights, and gentrification.

Cooking Sections' Salmon: A Red Herring performative installation at Tate Britain, London, 2020
Cooking Sections’ Salmon: A Red Herring performative installation at Tate Britain, London, 2020. Photo: Lucy Dawkins / Tate (Lucy Dawkins) 2020

With two members, Cooking Sections is the smallest collective on the shortlist. Its theme is food, not as art or cuisine, but as an image of capitalist systems that alienate us from nature with dyes and other lies.

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