I first went to the Turner Prize Winner exhibition the year Damian Hirst won and it was brilliant. His take on isolation ( the dots) and separation ( mother and offspring at birth) got me thinking. Separation is something we all experience and have to deal with.His bisecting of a cow, of course, drew criticism. He was trying to shock, people said. Maybe he was, shock us into thinking about this most primal moment when we are expelled from our mothers’ bodies into an unforgiving world where we experience cold, hunger and instability. Shocking.
But this year’s exhibition did nothing to reach into the void. The winner is Irish-born Duncan Campbell who expounded his theories about capitalism in a leaden dull way. Videos dominated, accompanied by a monotone commentary. The commentary was sometimes too fast to understand and the superimposed text illegible. Marxist theories were offered which, unless you knew something of Marxist equations, meant nothing.Most Marxists I know are incapable of dialogue and deal only in monologues in which there is no space allowed for an outside contribution. This was no exception.
One theory offered was about the way in which icons are commercialised to the point at which they no longer stand for their original statement. But for Christ’s sake, anyone who has been around for a few years already knows that the ban the bomb sign or the black and white keffiyeh worn by Yasser Arafat have been reproduced as fasion items which have no connection to their original political statement. Are the judges of the Turner Prize that far removed from life that they themselves were unaware of this?
Campbell states that museums have now become, not simply the guardians but the owners of foreign artifacts. This comes from the refusal of the British Museum to give him access to artifacts from Benin so that he had to use reproduced images of them rather than filming them for his video.
But Africa, the victim of colonialism and thereby relieved of its cultural treasures, is the easy option. Why did he not look closer to home. Not exotic enough, perhaps. Had he taken a trip to Oxford’s Bodleian Library, he would have come across plenty of illuminated manuscripts, from Ireland, which have been “acquired” by the Bodleian.
And so the viewer is left with the impression that Duncan Campbell has been living in an ivory tower where his politics have gone unchallenged. Think the Young Ones – remember them – and you get the idea.
No, the prizewinners exhibition has been a disappointment. Worse, it is boring.