Thu. Jan 20th, 2022


The Array Collective, a Northern Irish group, won this year’s Turner Prize with a fantasy shebeen populated by singers, protesters and storytellers who make their eyes swell, even if they raise a smile. The illegal bar, dreamed up by the Belfast-based group of artists and activists specifically for the award, is an installation that is both a lively, intimate drinking cage and a simmering political cell.

Under a ceiling hung with funny but sincere banners – slogans include “Stop Ruining Everything” – between walls plastered with posters and paintings, including one mocking the presence of British retailers such as Boots and Tesco, the bar is a place where colonialism, sectarianism and patriarchy are brought about by a convivial but coruscating twist of ridicule, dissection and dismantling.

The heartbeat is “The Druithaib’s Ball”, a video of Rabelaisian performances and demonstrations that unfolds with such radiant immediacy that it seems to happen in the room rather than on the screen. From a roaring pro-choice speech that weaves women’s reproductive rights into a bigger picture of inequality and oppression to a drag queen who breaks down in the middle of a sharp, faux-mythical fable, Array achieves both irony and authenticity. a way it is rare and refreshing in the o-so-knowing mainstream art world.

Speaking at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry, where the Turner Prize exhibition is being set up this year, Tate Britain’s director and chairman of the jury, Alex Farquharson, praised Array for creating a ‘surprising, immersive and hospitable space. completely in the spirit of their daily-day art practice ”despite living in a“ divided, sectarian world ”.

The other members of the jury consisted of Aaron Cezar, director of the London-based Delfina Foundation; Kim McAleese, program director at Grand Union, Birmingham; the actor Russell Tovey; and Zoé Whitley, director of the Chisenhale Gallery. The winner, announced during a ceremony at Coventry Cathedral, received £ 25,000, with £ 10,000 given to each of the others on the shortlist.

Array Collective on International Women’s Day in 2019 © Alessia Cargnelli

Array’s vitality is born out of a fervent commitment to their local community and the issues that affect it. Their belief in art as a tool to improve human lives is shared with the other practitioners on this year’s shortlist: Black Obsidian Sound System, a London-based group of sound artists and activists focusing on black and foreign experience; Cooking departments, focusing on the politics of food production; Gentle / Radical, a Cardiff project aimed at improving social care and camaraderie; and Project Art Works, a Hastings network that facilitates art by neurodivergent practitioners.

All five are collective. As always with the Turner Prize, the choice of shortlist caused controversy. Critics have argued that the work on display in Coventry, many of which were originally made for contexts outside conventional art institutions, is not suitable for display in a museum.

In fact, most of them work remarkably well. Entering the throbbing bass barrel thundered through Black Obsidian Sound System’s installation – a moody, lush harbor in deep purple and black – it was impossible not to want to dance, especially when a group of school children came in and tore. Array’s biggest competition probably came from Project Art Works, whose paintings, drawings, and sculptures displayed meticulous, skilful clarity that gave no indication of the challenges their various makers might have encountered.

Interdependence is the thing of life. The planet drums it home. But much of the art world still follows a lonely, though profitable, course of individualism over collaboration. In recent years, however, the tsunami of protests that have hit cultural institutions on issues such as corporate philanthropy, restitution, and failures of diversity indicates that change is urgently needed. Tate was very much in the barrage. This year’s Turner Award is perhaps his best counter-move yet.

Exhibition until January 12, tate.org.uk



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