Forget Islamic State, forget Scottish independence, forget Ukraine, only one news story should be on Radio 4 right now: Turner Prize nominations. That this annually unmomentous occasion is upon us once again reflects chiefly the fact that Tate Britain has decided not to axe it, despite assiduously chopping away at the rest of its contemporary programme (remember Art Now? That was art then).
Last year, four conspicuously non-English artists were chosen as the Prize was hosted for the first time ever in Northern Ireland, with the lovely French longshot Laure Prouvost coming in top trumps. This year, again, none of the artists live in London — James Richards has decamped to Berlin; Ciara Phillips is in Glasgow, as is Duncan Campbell (and as is another nominated artist who turned down the invitation — for that matter another nominated artist who also turned down the invitation is in Berlin); and Tris Vonna-Michell hasn’t even shown in the UK since 1997. Tris Vonna-who?
It’s a funny-odd list, for sure, and when it was announced there was much talk about how young, and not even very well-known, a few of the artists were. Vonna-Michell, for instance, who had very early and explosive success, seriously disappeared off the radar until coming back full-force in this media circus — a risky career strategy, all you young artists. In fact he was the DLR’s go-to example for Bad Early Career Moves — do too much too quickly, and your work suffers — but he seems to have turned out okay (we’ll see). That’s good news for Richards, the absurdly talented filmmaker whom the DLR would like to put in a bell jar and remove from all hype so he can just get on doing his own thing. Phillips is well-known in Glasgow — which might as well be a different country — but less so in London, except for her well-received Showroom exhibition, and Duncan Campbell, that wise old sage of found footage narratives, was the only artist, everyone agreed, who made sense on the list.
But the DLR has come round to this selection. Vive la jeunesse! The show adequately represents the move towards the digital and the internet (Richards) among young artists — as well as what they moved away from, celluloid (represented here by Campbell, who by the way is not actually that old). The banner of social practice — or, rather, the collectively made screenprint of social practice — is flown high by Phillips, and Vonna-Michell — well, we don’t know what he does because the last thing we saw of his was at Cubitt in 1997. They also all feel genuinely of the art world, which probably means the public will hate them, but the DLR likes the idea that the Turner Prize artists might show up in a non-UK biennial or two — international relevance is what we’re after here, not British (or English) nationalism. Indeed Campbell and Richards were both nominated on the back of their Venice installations.
So we shall see: an Aperol spritz, Irn Bru or whatever it is they drink in Brussels (monastically brewed fruit beer?) at the ready; the show opens in a week.