Films and funny puppets vie for Turner art prize

LONDON Mon Oct 1, 2012 6:10pm EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - What do a nudist, an inflatable slide, an oracle and Barabbas have in common? They're all part of just one finalist's exhibition in the running for Britain's most controversial annual art prize.

Turner Prize finalist Spartacus Chetwynd's "Odd Man Out" show comprises two theatrical performances using poorly constructed homemade costumes and puppets with paper backdrops in a deliberate effort to shy away from "professional" art.

Chetwynd, who lives in a nudist colony and wore a false beard during her interview with the press, is one of four finalists given an exhibition at the Tate Britain museum in London and the chance to win the 25,000 pound ($40,600) Turner Prize live on Britain's Channel 4 television network on December 3.

Her installations will vie with film from Elizabeth Price, Paul Noble's painstaking graphite on paper drawings of the imaginary metropolis of "Nobson Newtown" and Luke Fowler's combination of mundane photographs and a 93-minute film on the life of a maverick Scottish psychiatrist.

Chetwynd's carnivalesque performances and sculptural installations are said to create an "atmosphere of joyful improvisation" in the notes describing the installation.

One show is in a makeshift room covered in giant sheets of paper decorated with pictures of parrots, snakes and people, where audience members are invited to individually prostrate themselves before a rag puppet "oracle" in the shape of a mandrake root held reverentially by men dressed in green.

Once prostrate, the oracle delivers its message saying things like "84 percent of people have more sense than you" or "you will lose your mobile phone" or "watch out for Dave".

"The show is meant to be celebrating political ineptitude, so it's not complaining about misrepresentation or the two-party voting system," Chetwynd told reporters after performing. "It's just saying 'Oh my God look at this, have a laugh at this or what about how about having a deity for a while.'"

Audience members move from that past an inflatable slide lying on its side to another installation of theatre, where hooded puppeteers dressed in childish clown-like costumes perform a play from a passage in the Bible where the Jews decide to have Barabbas released instead of Jesus.

SCOTTISH PSYCHIATRIST

Fowler's exhibit consists of photographs of people in everyday poses and a long film which follows the life and work of maverick Scottish psychiatrist RD Laing (1927-89), who believed that psychosis did not have anything to do with chemical imbalances in the brain and is caused by and fuelled by the social environment where one lives.

"He (Fowler) is confronting the viewer with this material and asks or encourages us to create our own interpretation or meaning of the subject," said curator Sofia Karamani.

Karamani, on a tour of the show, said Noble's creation of the painstakingly detailed Nobson Newtown began by accident with the creation of a font.

Drawings of graphite on paper in small and incredibly intimate details are built around one word at the centre of a piece, which fan out from infinitesimally small drawings, into bigger, more intricate figures, creating vast, dramatic almost lunar landscapes or precise architectural pictures.

"He (Noble) was saying the other day, when he started making constellations it was time to stop," Karamani told reporters.

Finally, Price presents her video installation "THE WOOLWORTHS CHOIR OF 1979 2012. Comprising three parts, the video brings together photographs of church architecture, internet clips of pop performances, and news footage of a notorious fire in a Woolworths furniture department in Manchester in 1979.

The film rises to a crescendo of images and sound climaxing with repeated images of girl pop bands and those of people who can only be witnesses of the fire, whose words are displayed in text while 1960s girl band music plays ever louder.

Members of the Turner Prize 2012 jury are Andrew Hunt, the director of the Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea, Heike Munder, the director of Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich, Mark Sladen, the director of Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen and Penelope Curtis, the director of Tate Britain and the chair of the jury. The fifth member of the jury, Michael Stanley, the director of Modern Art Oxford in Oxford, has died.

The Turner Prize awards British artists aged under 50 for an "outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding".

Established in 1984, it has thrived on public debate about what constitutes art, with critics in the past accusing winners of creating works designed purely to shock.

Favourite Martin Boyce won the Turner Prize last year with his distinctive sculptural installations, topping a shortlist of works that some critics said was one of the best in the Turner's then 27-year history.

Damien Hirst was presented with the prize in 1995 for a pickled cow, and in 2001 an empty room with a light that switched on and off clinched the prize for Martin Creed.

(Reporting by Paul Casciato; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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