TURNER PRIZE 2001 - The Winner Martin Creed for
'Lights Going off and on in an Empty Room'
Artwork© Carine Thomas
exhibition of work by the shortlisted artists:
review of the winners and losers by Robert Cooper
Prize was awarded at the Tate Britain on the 9th December 2001.
The awardwas handed over by Madonna during a live broadcast on
Channel 4 and went to the controversial British artist Martin
Creed for his work entitled 'The lights going on an off'. He received
Martin trained at the Slade School of Art his is fascinated by
the idea of nothingness and simple,direct works. 'I can see why
some people take the piss out of me,' he said, "I quite like
all that stuff in a way, It's true anyone can do it...It's just
I'm better than anyone else at it.'
This years Turner
Prize has arrived without the bustling disquiet of controversy that
previous years have accustomed us to. No unmade beds or paintings made
with elephant dung to get the wind up more conservative art lovers.
However, it seems the shortlist selectors have made a token effect in
this direction with the selection of Martin Creed, knowing his work
would bring controversy.
The first artist in the show is Richard Billingham and in the opening
room is a small selection of photographs. Anyone familiar with the work
of Billingham will find the pieces on display quite a departure from
the disturbing and candid scenes of family life that have won him acclaim.
The subjects and techniques here are different, providing an eclectic
mix that does not seem to provide a common thread. Billinghams
concerns have moved from the interior to the exterior and we are faced
with landscapes, without the narrative and intimacy that was provided
by his earlier work. Here is a landscape at sunrise, bathed in beautiful
morning light and well composed, another of a well-clipped hedge, a
carefully mowed lawn and tarmac path, reminiscent of a park. Another
of a girl lying on a beach in the sunlight, we see her from behind and
above and the sand around her potmarked with footprints. Billingham
seems concerned with a sense of beauty in the landscape, and the brilliance
of sunlight. Unfortunately they fail to affect and would better served
in a larger more cohesive series. A triptych of video stills, that focus
close up-on the body, presumably his fathers, who is the dominant subject
of previous work, provide more interest. The blurred abstract nature
of the stills alludes to the body as landscape, and pose more questions
than the landscapes themselves.
There are two video pieces in the rooms adjacent, the first titled Tony
Smoking Backwards. We see on the wall projection a young man smoking
and laughing, with friends who are out of the picture. The camera focuses
on a small area of his face bringing the mouth and cigarette into view,
with the faint sound of music and laughter on the background. Just before
the cigarette reaches his lips smoke appears drifting back into his
open mouth, becoming thinker and more condensed until an almost solid
aqueous form of white snakes its way inside and is stoppered by the
cigarette. Like a snake returning to a charmers basket, it provides
a fascinating sight the delights on each repetition.
Ray in Bed observes Ray waking reluctantly, an old man who
wears his age and the kind of life he has lived on his wrinkled sunken
features. He seems unaware or unfazed by the presence of a camera and
we are left feeling like a ghostly presence on the room. Ray wakes mumbles
and stares up the ceiling and soon returns to sleep. The camera watches
him closely and listens to his breathing, and one is left feeling touched
at such an intimate scene, the sense of age and time passing is heightened
and I become uncomfortably aware of my own mortality.
Moving into the next large room one comes into the space of the work
of Martin Creed. The room is bare and the light goes on illuminating
the entire space, and a few seconds later the light goes off.
One strolls around the space looking for something in the dullness and
the light goes on once more. There is nothing in here but the visitors
also strolling around and wondering. The lights go off again, and so
on. The content of Creeds work past and present is minimalist
and conceptual; he is concerned with the paradox of wanting to make
something and nothing. Through this piece he questions our ideas and
notions of art, the tradition methods of museum display and what we
would normally expect to find in a gallery. The viewer is invited to
look again and examine their surroundings. The viewer is as much a part
of the work as the work itself, although I am unsure as to how much
the visitors will take up he challenge, and I feel many will regard
the piece as the least strong and interesting in the show.
Getting to the next artists work is something of a chance happening,
which is integral to the installation by Mike Nelson entiltled The
Cosmic Legend of the Uroboros Serpent. This way of approaching
the piece works beautifully and suspends a disbelief, which binds the
whole piece. There are two exits from Martin Creeds room and the
less obvious one is the right one to take. The unmarked door that looks
as if it might lead to a storeroom does not give any clues, and sure
enough an elderly lady in front passing through the door, asked the
attendant if this corridor leads to the exit. She marched in and head
down pursued her way along the corridor oblivious to the fact that she
was already in Nelsons installation. This is the wonder of his
piece, where bare floorboards, grey walls and warehouse lights could
be a back corridor of the Tate, but are a part of his created world.
Even those who know they are in his world already are unsure of their
surroundings, the space identity is unclear and ambiguous borrowing
elements from other types of spaces that start to weave different narratives.
These spaces borrow references from cultural film and literary sources
creating an open-ended fiction with many possibilities.
The corridor leads to a cramped small room, with shelves and objects
left around and upon them; there is dust and an old smell that evokes
the past. I feel I am in a cabin on an old ship, although there is nothing
to directly suggest as much, the environment plays with the imagination.
There are two possible doors to exit from this room, one is unsure which
to take and the viewers are disorientated; there is a sense of trespass
and uneasiness in manoeuvring about the place. I take the right hand
door and move into what looks like a storeroom, objects in racks are
piled high and amongst these are frames for canvases and large display
boards. The viewers ask themselves am I in a storeroom for the
Tate, have I taken a wrong turn?
Upon leaving one is returned to a corridor that could be the first one
entered, its so similar. With this technique Nelson keeps us guessing
and delighting in the surprises and open-ended allegories that are present
in the objects that are placed around the spaces. His work confronts
societies notions and belief systems, and alludes to alternative truths
and ways of thinking.
Finally one moves through to the two rooms housing the work of Isaac
Julien. The first is a piece called The Long Road to Mazatlan
and is projected on to back lit screens. The screen is broken seamlessly
into three different shots that play along side each other like a triptych.
Each shot is from a different angle, sometimes in distance and perspective
and also in time frame, with some shot just before or after the others.
The work was produced in collaboration with Javier de Frutos a choreographer,
and the spoken word is abandoned in favour of silent communication.
The work explores ideas of homosexuality, longing and desire and places
them in the hyper-masculine stereotypes of the American west. There
is a great sense of humour and parody in the film reminding us of how
these masculine figures have become gay icons. The sumptuous colours
and settings of the scenes are a treat for the eyes and the shooting
technique hints that more than one reading is possible of the same film,
and another viewing beckons.
The last piece is called Vagabondia and is staged in a luxurious
red room with matching carpet and screen. The film is structured as
two mirroring images, producing a kaleidoscope effect, and suggesting
two alternative readings of the film. The film is set within the Soane
Museum in London, which contains many cultural artefacts collected by
Sir John Soane in the late 19th century. The film focuses on the black
female curator and consequently the ambivalence of her position as custodian
of establishment culture. Again the colour is sumptuous capitalising
on the famous red and yellow rooms in the museum and juxtaposing this
with the red and yellow dresses of the actresses; possibly a comment
on the wealth of the aristocracy of the period and the poorer nations
they may have exploited. There are elements of dance to the film and
the narration is in, Creole a hybrid language born of slavery; key references
that point to Julien's message? There seem to be many other symbolic
signs and actions present, many of which are rather opaque, and I left
the film feeling like it was trying to do too much. It does however
provide thought provoking and delicious viewing.
And the winner is
All the artists work, with the exception of Martin Creed, are strong.
Julien's films are slick and beautiful and would be equally at home
in a cinema as an art gallery. They are loaded with meaning and reference,
but whether they deliver all they set out to is debatable. Martin Creed's
work feels like an old idea thats a bit long in the tooth, and
having seen some of his other work that is much better, I think he would
have been wise to produce something else for this show. Billinghams
work is currently under change and as such seems unresolved and patchy.
However he may win on the strength of his old work and recognition of
that. This would be wrong but maybe not the first time in the prize's
history. That leaves Nelson's installation, which provided the biggest
surprise and enjoyment of the show. I left and entered with a smile
and a sense of wonder and judging by the expressions of others present,
I wasnt the only one. Highly original and enjoyable, He would
be my personal winner.
© Robert Cooper
More Reviews by Robert Cooper
< Reply to this Article