Review of the Turner Prize 2015 at Tramway, Glasgow

From unmade beds to transvestite potters, divided cows in formaldehyde to lights going on and off again, since the first exhibition in 1984, the Turner Prize has always roused a hot debate.  Although this year’s nominees haven’t slaughtered any cows, their offerings are still debate-worthy, perhaps mostly due to the distinct lack of traditional media used in the production of their work and their unconventional display methods.

This year’s prize has, for the first time, crossed the Scottish border to nestle itself into the vast expanse of Tramway in Glasgow’s Pollock Shield’s suburb, a city which has produced six previous prize winners and 12 nominees.  On entering the exhibition, it’s evident that Tramway’s expanse of space has enabled this year’s curators to leave enough void between each artist’s work to avoid the usual oddly put together, group show feel the prize’s exhibition often has, to show a strong solo presentation by each nominee.

Nicole Wermers’ Infrastruktur greets the viewer upon entry.  Dotted around the space are small groupings of chairs with luxury fur coats draped and sewn into the backs, as if a wealthy company – who bought all of their employees fur coats for Christmas – has abandoned a team building exercise.  Combining the aesthetics of modernist design and high fashion, it’s a clever display but isn’t particularly emotive and in fact, just leaves you a little blank.

Around the corner, sealed in its own sound proof bunker-like space, is Bonnie Camplin’s adaptation of The Military Industrial Complex, the exhibition for which she was nominated.  A space of quiet contemplation, visitors are invited to paw through Camplin’s mind via her personal alternative reality research library, complete with her annotations and a photocopier for those who feel the need to take a copy home.  A sort of inside out artwork with the research and thinking behind its concept on show rather than the work itself, it’s the sort of work you expect will raise that ever-exhausting question, “but is it art”.

Echoing around the space at various intervals are the operatic tones of Janice Kerbal’s DOUG, originally commissioned by Glasgow’s Common Guild.  The work’s operatic librettos force you to adopt serious-cultural-experience-mode, until you realise the lyrics are about a comical fall; Heel on peel, To Seal the deal, Feet to Sky, Life slips by.  Taking from the history of physical comedy, Kerbal’s human and animal disaster arias teeter between serious and comical, leaving the viewer in limbo while they decide upon the most appropriate reaction.

The final exhibition comes from the 18-strong multi-disciplinary collective, Assemble, whose self-initiated projects confront the disconnection between the public and the process through which places are made.  Nominated for their ongoing Granby Four Streets project in Liverpool, the group have created a sort of showhome littered with handmade objects ranging from door knobs to printed fabrics.  At first glance, this is perhaps the most conventional of all the exhibits, but with social enterprise at its heart and a passion to give local residents power over their own communities, it is perhaps the most unconventional.

The prize will be announced in front of a live audience on 7 December.  Who will receive this year’s prize is up to the panel of judges, who, given the four very diverse and equally strong contenders, have a tough decision ahead of them.

Emma Sumner

The Turner Prize, until 17 January 2016, Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow, G41 2PE.

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1. Nicole Wermers, Infrastruktur, 2015. Installation view © Herald St, London.