As Liverpool tries to get its head around a housing project winning the most prestigious and controversial award in British art, Getintothis’ Christopher Flack muses on the Turner Prize and its relevance for Toxteth.
What is art?
Is art the unmade bed, the shit in a can? is it the deep purples of a Rothko Painting, or the pop culture sculpture by Donald Judd which a small child was lambasted for lying on when they needed a rest in Tate Modern?
For many the Turner Prize is an oddity ‘art folk’ do that doesn’t seem to make much sense. Organised by the Tate Gallery, the prize has been won by artists producing everything from paintings and sculpture, through to sound and video installations, that Tracy Emin bed, and photography. The most recent winner, Granby 4 Streets, is a surprise to many; early feedback suggest it’s a victory for the common people and a also bit of a conundrum.
The win by Assemble for the work with Granby 4 Streets is a triumph for people and place. There is huge community pride in this. There was, rightfully, a deep pride in Toxteth before Assemble and that will survive and grow as things change, as those £1 houses sell and funded projects move on. This project, with Assemble‘s direction and support, has won this prize in recognition of the self-belief that has been at the core of this community for generations. The value of self, and the desire to bend and manipulate the spaces you live in, have led to this acknowledgement, one which is richly deserved. When you consider community engagement around Liverpool this project stands out for the support it receives from all walks of life; it is beautiful to hear this news.
For many Assembles’ nomination was a surprise – for them too, we’d imagine. Their success will confound some onlookers and perhaps a few art critics. It poses a question around the value of high art, the value of that ballsy do-it-yourself spirit, and the challenge of changing spaces around you with little or no budget in times of so-called austerity. The value in a community being central to its own revitalisation in spite of cuts, and the recognition in something as prestigious as the Turner, is a brave new step in the art world. It’s certainly a new steer in the world of this often controversial prize, perhaps even a political steer or social commentary. That ‘community’ is recognised and triumphant amongst projects such as an operatic work and a piece about cultural appropriation is something to be welcomed.
Cold Dark Matter by Cornelia Parker is an awesome thing. It is her fathers shed and its worldly contents, taken to an Army Storage Unit, blown up and then hung in a gallery. It was in the Whitworth earlier this year, it is stark, brutal and yet weirdly mesmerising. Hanging as if caught mid explosion and lit by one dim bulb at the point of ignition it is a truly powerful thing. You could spend a considerable amount of time walking around it picking out bits of old tools and old toys.
Art elicits emotions that are different in each of us, you might walk into a gallery with Parker‘s work on display and laugh. You might be horrified by the flattened brass section in the next room. In the same way you might be moved by an exploding shed you could be moved by Picasso‘s Guernica, hung in the National Gallery in Madrid, it is a hunting montage on war and suffering that is filled with a violent rage. You might be moved by Waiting for the Interurban in Seattle, a sculpture of six punters and a dog waiting for a bus that is never coming, its playful, poignant and it belongs to the community around it. You might also be moved by the dark, foreboding pieces Conor Harrington creates with a crane and a can and confused by the queues to see Mona Lisa in a gallery filled with other masterpieces no one notices.
The true power of art is its ability to change spaces. Consider the Highline in New York. What was a run down part of the Lower West Side has been transformed by some lateral thinking, some amazing art and architecture, and some very brave decisions. It is a project that has led to the redevelopment of the entire community. If you get the chance spend a day on that piece of art, have lunch in it, dance in it and watch the sunset from it. It’s inspirational and has led to similar projects the world over, one not so far away.
The joy of art is the value it can bring to the communities that are involved in it, the joy it can create in its simple act of being, of hearing, seeing, touching. The act of being able to walk through it and be part if it is an uplifting and spiritual thing. The joy of art, with the vision of those who live it, create it and mould it, is that it can be utterly transformative as it has been in Granby and that lifts us all equally.
We can’t help but wonder what Brian Sewell would think of last night’s news. Sewell described Liverpool as “The British armpit.” He said “The two words ‘graffiti’ and ‘art’ should never be put together” and stated that people from London were more sophisticated than, well, people anywhere else. What would Sewell make of Toxteth, of Granby 4 Streets, walking away with the biggest prize in art?
In the next few days there will be acres of column inches on the oft-cited view that community led art isn’t really art. The notion that if you get it straight away then you can’t possibly understand its true intent and if it isn’t something that can be seen in a gallery then it’s not worth considering as real, valuable art. Art you can stick a price tag on. This view is something that lives on in art, in all art forms, and is constantly up for debate when the Turner Prize is announced.
Whatever art is, whatever its value, it’s worth or sense of being, we need to embrace the transformative, we need to welcome the space invaders, the shape shifters and ignore the sniffles and snipes that are likely to follow.
Toxteth, Granby and Assemble did alright.
Photos by Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody