Review of The 2004 Turner Prize, Tate Britain, London
The Turner Prize is a competition. It has a TV event to announce the result on 6 December, long before which bookmakers quote odds and the press declares its favourites with argument and passion.
But it is more than a media circus. It has a good history with quality past winners including Gillian Wearing, Damien Hirst and Anthony Gormley. The Turner Prize has made the 'installation' commonplace, has led film into the art gallery, and has turned the art world sharply towards social themes.
There was a time when Blake, Byron, Shelley, Walter Crane, William Morris, A J Waudby, even Wordsworth and Turner, were directly linked to the changing times of industrialisation and urbanisation and they were on the side of those in struggle. The Turner Prize 2004 has come home to this tradition.
Kutlug Ataman has six large screens in a darkened room, each screen a Turkish face telling personal stories linked with reincarnation. Many stories are of repression and torture. Ataman invites us to conclude that 'all narratives, hence all lives, are in the end created as art by the subject', and we only imagine ourselves in the reality we are in.
Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell include a virtual reality tour round the house of Osama Bin Laden. They were commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to go to Afghanistan. The screen has the unreal clarity of the video game. The programme notes say that the house - bombed by the US - has the significance of the twin towers and is a discourse on how architecture is the most tangible record of how we live.
One film depicting the Afghan warlord Faryadi Sarwar Zardad is now removed on legal advice due to a current trial at the Old Bailey.
Yinka Shonibare, whose life spans London and Lagos, questions cultural identity, particularly in the exotic use of fabrics and figures. He is a great decorative artist and there is a sculpture based on Fragonard's The Swing. His rococo film, A Masked Ball, in a Swedish palace, in high-definition film technique on a huge screen, portrays the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden in 1792. This film has compelling intersecting historical references via the dress of the 18th century and the African batiks (cloth designs) of today. These batiks came to Africa via the British Empire through Asia.
Jeremy Deller is much praised by the Guardian's Jonathan Jones. His themes are grand - often based on major events and social changes - but his social contacts and his method of working are low key, touching many who might not otherwise experience contemporary art. He sees as an artist and invites the public to join him. He has placed five memorials throughout the country, including one at Tilbury to celebrate the landing of the Empire Windrush in 1948. One memorial is at Kellingley to honour Joe Green, a picketing miner who died in the Great Strike of 1984. His film Memory Bucket is the Texas of Bush, Waco, and millions of bats setting out for the night. A huge flow chart links music to advanced capitalism, summers of love, privatisation and acid house.
The Turner Prize is in a national gallery, but its themes escape its walls. It is worth more than one visit, and I for one will be watching Channel 4 on 6 December.