Old-Fashioned Imagery, Sounds Reign at 2014 Turner Prize Exhibit

Film pieces by three nominees add up to two hours of screen time at 30th edition show, alongside first printer in shortlist

There isn’t a painting or a sculpture to be seen, but visitors to the 30th annual Turner prize exhibition will be greeted by some reassuringly traditional sounds. Three of the four artists work in film and video, and the Tate Britain galleries are full of the competing babble of their soundtracks, as well as the comforting purr of a 16mm film projector and the chunk-click of a row of thoroughly old-fashioned slide projectors.

The prize, one of the most prestigious and frequently the most controversial competition in the art world, returns to London after last year’s excursion to Northern Ireland for Derry’s term as city of culture. The exhibition features four artists described even by Penelope Curtis, director of Tate Britain and chair of the judging panel, as “not especially well known.”

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The winner will be announced on 1 December, and so far the bookies’ favourite is the Dublin-born, Glasgow-based Duncan Campbell. But the competition is famous for disappointing the hopes of the favourites, including David Shrigley last year. Fame is no guarantee of success either: the Chapman brothers failed to win in 2003, and in 1999 Tracey Emin exhibited possibly the most famous single piece in the history of the competition, My Bed – sold by Charles Saatchi this summer for £2.2m – but also missed the prize.

 

This year’s film pieces, incorporating many scraps of older films and documentaries, blurred images of black and white photographs, jerky animations and shaky sequences filmed under water, add up to almost two hours of screen time.

The show ends with the 54 minutes of Campbell’s It for Others, which includes chunks of a 1953 French film essay by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais on colonialism and African art, and a dance routine choreographed by Michael Clark expressing economic equations from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.

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However, curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas said visitors should not feel that it was compulsory to watch every single frame.

“I think you might come out very resentful if you felt obliged to watch every minute of every film,” she said. “I think visitors should play it by ear, and if you find you engage with something emotionally – watch it all.”

James Richard’s Rosebud incorporates black and white film from the 1960s of a budgie with a chained leg pecking indignantly at a barely visible hand, and the artist’s own films of roadside flowers lit by car headlamps, more flowers being trailed over bare flesh, and erotic images from books in a Tokyo library with the sexy bits carefully sandpapered out by local censors.

Tris Vonna-Michell is showing his first film, Finding Chopin: Dans l’Essex 2014, with a soundtrack recorded at a live performance of the artist telling a long convoluted story about his own life and much more, at breakneck speed. His second piece, a slide installation about his mother’s life in post-war Berlin, suggests this easily distracted storytelling may be a family trait. Vonna-Michell describes his father offering a Berlin tale: “He started with the 19th century, in fact he didn’t start with the 19th centurty, he started with fish.”

The only artist not working in film and video is Canadian-Irish Ciara Phillips, the first printer to make the shortlist: her gallery is lined floor to ceiling with more than 400 individual hand-printed sheets of paper, and the giant three dimensional letters OK. She is also known for her work with community groups: inside the O visitors will find a list of “notes taken from conversations with collaborators” in alphabetical order, ranging from “About money” to “Yes” via “pointless to be antagonistic” and “red shoes no knickers”.

The Stuckists, a group of artists who have become self-appointed scourges of the Turner prize – picketing it every year since 2000 because of its failure to reward figurative art – were represented this year by a neat notice at the bottom of the Millbank steps to Tate Britain, apologising for staying away “due to the fact that the Prize has sunk to a predictable and pathetic level of elitist repetition that is not worth bothering about”. Puzzlingly, copies of the text were handed out by members of the Stuckists.

• Turner prize 2014 exhibition, Tate Britain, [runs] until 4 January 2015

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