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Issue 52, October 2000

Chilling Out at the Tate

Turner Prize 2000 Exhibition
Tate Britain,
25 October 2000 to 14 January 2001
Admission £3
Reviewed by Manny Thain

THE TABLOID press has been unusually quiet about this year's Turner Prize exhibition, organised around Britain's foremost arts award. There has been none of the pre-exhibition hype which often accompanies this event.

Of the four artists shortlisted two are painters, undermining the annual criticism that the Turner Prize concentrates too heavily on video, installation, and other media, rejecting traditional art forms. This year's event certainly has a more contemplative feel.

Michael Raedecker is a painter and the bookies' favourite to win. His pictures are an intriguing mix of painting and embroidery. The stitching comes first, delineating the angles of outbuildings, trees and rocks. Then, lying the canvas flat, Raedecker pours on paint, using different consistencies of the same colour, and heating parts of the canvas so that some areas dry quicker than others, further adding to the layering effect. The colours are subdued, mainly greys, browns, light blues and greens. Raedecker describes it as a slow art form using quiet colours.

It is effective. Imaginary landscapes. But it's all about atmosphere. 'I don't give a shit about landscapes. I live in the city all the time. You don't have to see landscapes to paint them. You can use your imagination'.


There are vivid contrasts - light emanating from a door is produced by the use of thread in the picture, ins and outs (2000). There are no people present. There are film references: 'Ten years ago you'd say David Lynch, now people say Blair Witch Project'. These places are deserted and a little unsettling, inviting viewers to use their imaginations.

Wolfgang Tillmans exhibits nearly 60 photographs in an impressive array of work. Starting out in the late 1980s and early 1990s he came to prominence with images for cult magazines, such as I-D and The Face, and has taken up issues like the Gulf war and conflict in Bosnia. One of his aims has been to portray young people in an alternative way to the slick, lifestyle magazines, feeling that young people were never represented seriously. He has just finished a project for the Big Issue magazine.

Tillmans' images are very direct, deceptively appearing spontaneous. He presents his photos unframed, pinned to the wall, mixing up themes and a variety of sizes from polaroids to large murals. Apart from the photos on the walls, there are cabinets displaying some of the work he has done for various publications.

There is a wide range of subject matter - still life's, portraits, landscapes. It has an autobiographical feel, while also reflecting on the bombardment of our senses by the mass of images and other stimuli we are subjected to in the modern world.

Glenn Brown is a painter of quite awesome technical ability. He takes existing paintings - in many different styles and from different times - as his point of departure. Oscillate Wildly (a reference to a song by The Smiths) is Salvador Dalí's Autumnal Cannibalism reversed, stretched and enlarged and painted in monochrome. The effect is striking.


Brown often reproduces pictures using different colours to the original, adding contemporary or futuristic elements, manipulating and distorting the images. His paintings are flat. So an adaptation of a picture which was made up originally of textured layers of paint is transformed into a totally smooth surface, while the visual impact of the original is retained. Brown works from reproductions: 'Most paintings are pretty flat'. We often experience art second-hand, through photographs. And he recreates that effect.

Brown also produces science-fiction inspired paintings on an epic scale and Dalí is once again brought into play, although the pictures have multiple influences and references. What he is doing is 'mixing pop culture with high culture', a fusion of past and present.

In contrast to the smooth finish of the paintings, his sculptures are jagged and spiky - often compared to asteroids, honest.

But the paintings once again pose questions about what constitutes originality - issues which are increasingly blurred in this day of music sampling, mixing, downloaded images and hi-tech editing. They are clearly marketable. A post-modernist's dream.

Although it is probably too late to whip-up any contrived outrage, the only ammunition could be supplied by the installation, Learning How To Drive, by Tomoko Takahashi. But this work hardly lends itself to angry denunciation. You would be more likely to dismiss it with a shrug, rather than attack, jump on or wreck it. How do you trash a room full of trash anyway?


Takahashi has filled a room with found and discarded material. As the title suggests, the theme is her attempt to learn to drive. The illusion of randomness is quickly dispelled. This is ordered. The junk is actually strewn on and under tables in little groups: a pile of computer keyboards and toy car race tracks; a cordoned-off section with bollards and fire extinguishers; stacks of games and toys; tyres and signposts, steering wheels and traffic lights. Filing cabinets and assorted bric-a-brac hang from the ceiling. Interspersed amongst the wreckage are a lot of plants in pots. A few of Takahashi's favourite things?

Simon Wilson, one of the gallery's curators, said it was 'like walking into some magic grotto'. Reminded me of some of the hardware stores down the Romford Road, East London.

Takahashi adds bits as she finds them, often sleeping on site. It's a process. Someone suggested it was an excuse for not having thought of anything before she turned up. Evidently, she was taken aback by the amount of rules governing museums: health and safety rules on the circulation of visitors, fire regulations, and so on. So traffic signs giving directions are incorporated in the design. A young child's school uniforms are present, alongside an old security guard's uniform: lifelong rules and regulations. And, of course, there's no getting away from that important rite of passage in the world today - the driving test. News is that Takahashi failed.

I can't see this exhibition driving anyone incandescent with rage. And nothing leaps out as being extraordinarily brilliant, although Raedecker would get my vote if I had one. It is, in fact, all very relaxed and thoughtful - some might say uplifting - with interesting techniques on show. It seems strange to say that of an event which is synonymous with controversy. Is this a new departure for the Turner Prize? And does it reflect the current state of art in Britain?


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