With many contemporary galleries across Yorkshire there is no shortage of art to tickle your taste buds. Whether it be experiential, immersive, photographic, performance, painting, sculpture or video there is masses to uncover. If the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield and the current Jaume Plensa’s exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park isn’t enough, why not stretch further afield to Project Space Leeds, or head a few miles up the road to see this years nominee’s for the prestigious Turner Prize at the Baltic gallery in Gateshead.
This year is a big deal for Turner Prize, for the first time ever the exhibition is held outside of a Tate gallery and has traveled north. The Turner Prize as we all know it is recognized for undoubtably playing a significant role in provoking debate and discussion about visual art, in particular British contemporary art, by elevating and celebrating cutting edge work.
This years nominee’s are Hilary Lloyd, Martin Boyce, George Shaw and Karla Black. Here we have a collection of sculptors, video makers, painters and installation artists. When viewing this amalgamation of work, what we cannot escape is the overriding question of who to reject and discard as a potential winner. This year is difficult, its confusing, some work is clever, some ephemeral, others already out of date. So who should win?
Well firstly we have Hilary Lloyd whose video works draw attention to unnoticed details of everyday life. Her non-edited, repetitive films have a collage aesthetic often split into many sections like a video jigsaw. The monitors and projectors used to display the work are hung from ceilings or embedded into the floor defining space within themselves, becoming sculpture. The work offers movement, composition and the idea of the viewer being challenged by our typical viewing conventions. Then the realization, the clarity of the everyday image we all share intersubjectivity with, the moon, clothes, the body and even tower blocks are depicted in her videos. Her work forces us to realise the physical act of looking, and though is familiar and aesthetically well installed there is sadly something missing for me.
Next is Martin Boyce Like Lloyd’s, Boyce’s installation is both in the room and of it. His work explores design, architecture, memory, language and décor. When entering the space we see a suspended grid of geometric ceiling made up of white shapes, firstly I thought made of paper but then noted made of steel. Scattered are what looks like hand cut, shaped leaves on the floor made from crepe paper gathered and dispersed in corners around the gallery space. We also notice ventilation grills in which shapes and décor from 1920′s modernist sculpture becomes apparent, a steel litter bin which has a slightly distorted shape, and a large wooden school table in which these geometric shapes have been carved. The relationships here between inside and outside and functional and decorative become paramount. Martin Boyce’s work shows intelligence, creates an atmospheric environment and as he describes it a ‘peculiar landscape’ it is utopian modernism with a twist.
George Shaw’s sombre, slightly depressing paintings hold a similar nostalgia to Boyce’s. His paintings depict the landscapes and cityscapes of his past, mainly the council estate on the outskirts of Coventry where he grew up. The grungy settings are the opposite of picturesque, everything appears dull, unloved, boarded up, derelict, it is surely a true critique of England that people do not see or easily forget about. These scenes are painted with humbrol enamel, the paint which children use to paint their toy planes supplying an irony of shine and gloss to the image. I do ask myself whether these places from Shaw’s past could have been photographed and if so, would he have subsequently been the bookies favourite?
Lastly Karla Black, I’ve seen her work three times now over the past two years. Once at the Saatchi Gallery in London, at this year Venice Biennale and here at the Baltic. I find it difficult to say why she is such a great artist however her work seems to be everywhere at the moment and is oddly cutting edge. The Turner installation space works with colour and texture and cheap domestic materials and objects. Here, as at the Venice Biennale, Black sets up a sense of the familiar unknown. What I like about her work is its ephemeral nature, it is ever changing, constantly decaying. The space is filled with a sculptural construction of creased paper, cellophane, pastel soap, face powder, chalk, bath bombs and cello-tape.
These things are gentle, fragile and disperse that smell of cleanliness, like bath bombs do. What Black makes of them is monumental, unusual, delicate but dominant in that space. The construction of work, pastel colours, everyday materials transform into sculpture like I have never seen before. Her work may have integrity, an innovative nature, a cutting edge appeal and a knowledge of material but the materiality restrains a particular sleek aesthetic in which Martin Boyce’s work succeeds.
Who will win on 5th December? The highlight of this show for me is Martin Boyce’s contemplative, modernist-inspired environment however I have a sneaky feeling Karla Black’s innovation of sculpture has got it in the bag.