Everybody I know with a reputation for knowing anything about art appears to believe that Tino Sehgal is a shoo-in for this year's Turner Prize. The fact that I found his piece at the Ebrington gallery in Derry bewildering shows how little I understand these things, possibly. The gala opening on Tuesday night attracted a throng of local worthies in our best ballgowns, dicky-bows and T-shirts, all of us on a high that such a prestigious event had come to our city of culture and anxious to discuss the pieces on show. My briefly considered view that Sehgal's This is Exchange was "meaningless" elicited the advice that I should "interrogate what you mean by meaningless". Yeah, right. That's one of the great things about the Turner Prize. It gives us an opportunity once a year to slag off the judges for having their heads inserted into their posteriors and to pose the perennial question, "Well all right, but is it art?"
This is Exchange has a team of volunteers moving around the room button-holing visitors and asking them for their views on the market economy and confiding the code-word for collecting a £2 coin as
My irritation may have been prompted by the fact that I am regularly invited to discuss variations on this very topic when I walk into, for example, Sandino's, just across the Peace Bridge.
David Shrigley's Life Model 2012 comprises a 10ft animatronic figure with blinking goggle-eyes in a huge head, an elongated torso and a nicely proportioned willy that every now and again pees into a bucket, surrounded by chairs and easels so that each of us can produce our own sketch for display on the walls.
Since the figure is itself distorted, you can’t really go wrong. The piece seemed to me to incite reflection on the making and meaning of art and on the relationship of the artist with the audience. Plus, it’s terrific fun. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s striking paintings of imagined figures are presented dimly spot-lit in a darkened room for reasons that were beyond me. I couldn’t see them clearly. The room containing Laure Prouvost’s presentation of a video and the clutter of her grandparents’ home was too tightly packed to get in past the entrance. The exhibition runs until January. There’ll be time to return.
From a parochial viewpoint, the test of the Turner will lie in the extent to which it leaves a legacy of heightened interest in and understanding and practice of visual art in Derry. The most positive aspect of the opening-night babble was the way discussion of the exhibits led to debate on what’s already being produced and presented in the city. The Turner has illuminated an arts “scene” more lively and well-rooted than is commonly acknowledged, even in as self-regarding a neck of the woods as this.
The best thing I've seen in the course of City of Culture has been Andrei Molodkin's Catholic Blood, made for the Void Gallery on Patrick Street, shown in May. In each of two rooms, a pump sent spurts of crimson – guaranteed Catholic blood, according to the mischievous Molodkin – into Perspex replicas of the Rose Window at the Palace of Westminster, so that it seeped and surged in cascades of beads and bubbles of gore, the whole projected onto the wall as images made from bloodstained glass. It represented, I think, the oppression of Catholics in the creation of British democracy. It was moving, disturbing and beautiful to behold.
In April, the Centre for Contemporary Art on Pump Street showed Dublin artist Jesse Jones's The Other North. She developed the piece after a number of visits to the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea. Its structure and form came from a filmed record of a "conflict resolution" session in Belfast in 1974 in which 11 participants sat in a circle discussing the impact of the then-raging violence on their lives. A camera positioned at the hub swivelled slowly to inspect them as they spoke. Jones took verbatim transcripts translated into Korean and restaged the session exactly, using well-known Korean actors. Two lenses gave different perspectives and framings, projected simultaneously onto a split screen. The 60-minute film that resulted was shattering, weird, elusive
and horribly familiar, drawing tears at something you'd heard a hundred times before and thought you had learnt to handle with a shrug.
The fact that I spent half an hour at the after-show on Tuesday talking about Molodkin, Jesse Jones and other experiences from the year almost gone convinced me at last that, here at least, and notwithstanding the manifold problems with all such arts jamborees, the Turner can be something to be prized.
The winner, Sehgal presumably, will be announced at another glittering Derry occasion on December 2nd, after which I will be able to stomp across the bridge muttering, “Bah, humbug!” towards Sandino’s, prepared for a resumption of discourse on the politics of the market economy. Which suddenly makes me wonder, too late, whether I might not be wrong about Sehgal after all. Ah, well.