This year’s Turner Prize sees a gallery space turned into a multi-screen cinema for the display of artist’s videos – the very thought fills one with dread. The difference with these films is that they each have a clear social commentary – part of the new art zeitgeist of tackling the ills of our benighted times. I have to say that the problem of showing a video in a dark space is that unless it comes with sufficient seating one is tempted to wander in and out again smartish. I have no desire to sit on the floor. I face the task of getting up again – the lack of seating is surely ageist. In one or two of these screenings there are perhaps half a dozen seats, all occupied. It’s like being on the 507 Victoria-Waterloo bus, where one is forced to stand even if you’re a pensioner. Most videos, funnily enough are about the same duration as that particular journey. Yes, I know: this is just another silly little complaint by an old grump which has bugger-all to do with the actual content of the videos. But it has everything to do with the content of the videos, and it comes down to what one imagines the curator thinks is the value and intent of the videomakers. Do they expect their audience just to wander in and out, never stopping (or stooping) to watch the whole thing? Are they trying to take us out of our couch potato viewing mentality? A time-based piece of artwork is not the same as most other visual stuff. I’m warming to my theme here. I would no more want to stand all the way through Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, even with its sublime aesthetic appeal – then stand through twenty minutes of something of possibly obscure merit. Well, enough of this! Curator knows best! For the record, Christian Marclay’s The Clock - a 24 hour long piece at Tate Modern, on show in a large darkened space was thoughtfully provided with row upon row of comfy sofas. Both artwork and sofas are a perfect combination, well worth seeing. So more sofas please!
The piece here which I was most engaged with, and which I nominate for the Turner Prize this year is. . . . (long, imbecilic pause) Forensic Architecture (rapturous American style whooping!!). This multi-media content provider “utilises architectural methodologies as a framework through which it investigates allegations of state and corporate violence across the globe.” (Turner Prize catalogue) Using a multi-disciplinary approach, a single narrative of say Israeli troops killing a Palestinian takes on several dimensions of story-telling. On the big screen a timeline second by second counts down events in a forensic but live-filmed examination of a violent event. One of the social media camera persons appears to be shot in the leg, whilst holding the camera or phone – everything falls to the ground. This is art fully engaged with modern life, is it not? Having said which, might some people question whether this is ‘art’ or merely a new form of reportage? Could it be a new post-modern form of police procedural? I am trying to think of any precedent for this type of work as art, as opposed to say documentary. When has visual art ever been used as an investigative technique? One could I suppose reflect on e.g. Hitchcock thrillers, but all such films were filtered through a fictive prism - even if one might consider some of the stories true to life, they only ever imitated it. Here the cameraman really is shot in the leg. When somebody is heard shouting ‘drop the fucking gun’ one really knows that nearby somebody else may soon be shot dead.
I am pleased to say that I will be able to watch Forensic Architecture on a sofa when I get home since they make their stuff available on www.forensic-architecture.org. It should be a rule that all video artists whose work is shown at the Tate (and elsewhere at taxpayers’ expense) should also make their stuff available online. My knees would tremble in gratitude.