The often-controversial Turner Prize* for contemporary artists is held this year at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead.  Of the four artists this year two are from Scotland, Karla Black and Martin Boyce, who featured as Scotland’s representation in the Venice Biennale in 2011 and 2009 respectively.


Martin Boyce has created an installation that appears like a concrete garden esplanade.  There is a concrete rectangular wall-hanging with a modernist typeface on it, and scattered letters that appear to be floating, mimicking pond water and alluding to fluidity of wind causing ripples on the surface.  On inspection, the letters read Petrified Songs, signifying the turning to stone of otherwise still waters. A table in the middle of the room has a thick slab of wood that is crudely scored with letters in the same designed font. It is reminiscent of a school desk or park bench, with the marks representing the artist’s presence within the room. Wax brown leaves folded in the style of modernist sculptures of trees are scattered throughout, again alluding to movement and being outdoors. They add to the aesthetic of a concrete children’s playground, yet the indoor gallery setting is noted through specially designed air-vents positioned near the floor, with the same pattern repeated in metal shutter-like lampshades altering the light coming from the ceiling.


Hilary Lloyd’s projectors, DVD players and plasma screens are displayed as sculptures in their own right in this new media installation.  The vast gallery window opens out to a residential end of the River Tyne, with the bold logo of the adjacent hotel building JURYS INN casting an ominous slogan over the decision of the winner.  The installation feels like it is in transit throughout the building, mimicking the dominant lift systems of the Baltic by using cylindrical metal brackets braced between floor and ceiling to display screens on. It’s as if viewers on each floor can summon them for viewing. It is the most sympathetic to the gallery space and acknowledges the surrounding area, integrating “acts of seeing” and moments of distraction within the changing winter light outside. The installation mimics the transient nature of large audiences passing through the exhibitions by creating an environment where the subconscious is mimicked as the dominant method of taking in the finer details.


As you enter the delicate installation by Karla Black you have a sense of being an observer in an experiment, passing through painted sheets like shower curtains into a room that through its stark lighting feels like a medical facility.  The light wood floor has an edged line made with pastel-coloured dust, creating an island for her large paper sculpture to cascade from the wall across the centre of the room, encompassing the viewer’s gaze.  You are invited to walk behind a small, cave-like pathway to the far side of the installation, where scented bath products are placed within the folds of the paper.  They are like eggs of a giant paper creature, indicative of the process of its creation and her method of experimenting with materials in the gallery space. Small multi-coloured scribbles adorn corners of the sculpture, much like colour screen tests preceding a television broadcast.


George Shaw focuses on painting scenes of his hometown in Humbrol (model-making) paint. His uniformly sized canvases function for his paintings as blank Airfix Models do for model-painting hobbyists. He depicts miserable, familiar, and at times nostalgic scenes, such as the now derelict pub where he had a last drink with his father.  His titles punctuate the uniformity to his painting with crass humour, such as Landscape With Dog Shit Bin, as if they were named by a passer-by in the scenes he depicts. There is a noticeable absense of people and signage in the paintings, which puts an onus on the locations, weather and urban repititon that helps fuel a famililiarity with his paintings and the viewer.


This year’s Turner Prize exhibition may not gain the notoriety of previous years, yet features four very different installations in a building that easily accommodates the worldwide focus of contemporary art leading into winter. It runs until Thursday, 8 January 2012 and is free.


Martin Boyce, winner of the Turner Prize 2011


*Martin Boyce was announced as winner of the 2011 Turner Prize on the Monday, 5 December 20011


Fraser MacDonald

Image credit – RMIT University