Tate Britain

The Turner Prize is an exhibition and also a competition, intrinsically encouraging the audience to compare and contrast the 4 artists. But is this a help or a hindrance, I ask myself, ruminating over a cup of tea in the Tate café?

The show opens with the subtle, removed, work of Goshka Macuga. The highlights here were the collages- the humorous ‘Collective Unconscious’ 2008, where the profile of a head was placed on a broken turret- literally cracking up. The lines of the brickwork mirror the contour lines on the head – collage’s subtlety and witticism exploiting here the matched with the mismatched.

Where Macuga is well-conceived but occasionally dry, Cathy Wilkes, with her detritus of her disconcerting reality, was sticky and cloying. No space for symbolism here, everything was chained to the literal. I was drawn to the baby food on the supermarket checkout, crusty with old food, and each with a baby fork, reminding me of stories of the drab repetitiveness of parenting, the endless drudgery.

Runa Islam’s films are a relief then – their humour, poetry, in a richly rewarding visual language. The very brilliant ‘Be The First To See As You See It’ kept me captivated and returning for addictive thrills, surreptitiously asking what would happen if I stopped caring about things I am suppose to care about, quite the opposite of Wilkes where that care is just so insistent it is claustrophobic. The blue background reminded me of Dutch still lives, with their fine porcelain and the occasional inscrutably beautiful woman. Islam’s protagonist touches what shouldn’t be touched, all the time with a dance of sexy nonchalance. Encouraged to find beauty in these plates, those bells and teacups, the camera trains on them as an antiques expert, a silent sales pitch chiming in your mind’s eye. Yet this is where the beautiful assistant is a good-girl-gone-bad twiddling, fiddling, and eventually enjoying the smash of the crockery, And once this starts the plates are on death row it seems, waiting to fall off the edge, but with the air of a mafia ‘accident’- at the end of one foray the woman gently taps her fingers on the plinth, a glimpse of a satisfactory smile.

Mark Leckey ended the Turner prize with a flourish and answers my opening question. His ‘Cinema in the Round’, was a series of intelligent, fascinating explorations of the relationship between object and image, and in the process invites the audience to collaborate, as we fill the seats of his auditorium, reforming the audience featured in the film. His lectures are a real collage of research interspersed with works by Jeff Koons, tripping between popular culture, and fine art, he even includes meat and potatoes. So the benefits of artists being presented in a competition encourages the sense of their interconnection: unveiling a continuously developing and universally enriching community of thought.
And it isn’t just artists being influenced by the work here. As I leave I realise I have been drinking from a paper cup not crockery. I smile – after Islam’s film the Tate is not taking any chances!

Interface is working with Tate Britian to generate debate around the Turner Prize 2008. You can read this review and others on Tate’s Turner Prize debate website