The Turner Prize, the pinnacle of the contemporary art calendar, has been awarded to a group of artists from across Northern Ireland’s sectarian divide.
The Array Collective is a group of 11 artists from Belfast who have been working together on projects since 2016 to address problems such as abortion access, homosexual rights, mental health, gentrification, and social welfare.
The Array artists “make their work in a difficult, divided sectarian context,” according to Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and head of the jury. They deal with serious topics while injecting a feeling of humour, pleasure, joy, hope, and welcome into an otherwise uncomfortable environment – typically via absurdism, camp, and theater. They convey a feeling of liberation and a post-sectarian mindset.”
On Wednesday evening, the renowned £25,000 prize was presented in a ceremony at Coventry Cathedral. For the first time, the shortlist was exclusively made up of collectives, all of which emphasized social participation.
The accolade was “surreal” for the Array Collective, who stated they were “so proud to be from Belfast and of Belfast.” They said that the award money will be used to obtain a studio facility.
The Druithaib’s Ball, the group’s prize-nominated piece, is an installation centered on an imagined shebeen – an unlawful drinking hole – with a floating canopy built from protest and demonstration banners. It is defined as “a place to gather outside the sectarian divides” and is approached via a circle of flag poles that reference ancient Irish ceremonial locations and current constructions.
“The jury was really impressed by Array’s exhibition,” Farquharson remarked. In a gallery environment far away from home, they really represented the essence of what they do, what they’re about.”
The emphasis on collectives rather than individuals this year was “inextricably linked” to the collectives’ social commitments and community involvement. You may call it activism in certain circumstances. In other circumstances, maybe activism isn’t the best term. But social interaction is important in each scenario,” he added.
He recognized that the collectives’ shortlist had sparked debate in certain places. Their work, however, was part of a “genealogy of performance art in the visual arts.” That is a creative medium. It’s only that the creative medium this year isn’t the thing – painting, photography, or sculpture – but rather transforming life into art and art into life.”
“Multiple authorship is more common in the visual arts, but it’s certainly not uncommon in other art forms, such as film or theater,” he noted.
Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S), Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical, and Project Art Works were among the other collectives on the shortlist.
B.O.S.S is a queer, trans, and intersex black and people of color collective headquartered in London that was founded in 2018. Through club nights, art installations, technical courses, and creative commissions, they challenge mainstream sound-system cultural standards throughout the African diaspora.
Cooking Sections, located in London, utilizes food as a lens and instrument to explore landscapes in flux. Tate has removed farmed salmon off all of its menus as a result of the duo’s recent work spotlighting the circumstances of farmed salmon.
Gentle/Radical was founded in the Riverside neighborhood of Cardiff in 2016 as “an artists-and-others-run project” with the attitude that “the margin is our mainstream.” It promotes the use of art as a vehicle for social change.
Project Art Works is a Hastings-based community of neurodiverse artists that create art via collaborative practice.
Pauline Black, lead vocalist of 2 Tone pioneers the Selecter, delivered the £25,000 award. Each of the other candidates received an extra £10,000 prize.
Russell Tovey, the actor; Aaron Cezar, the director of the Delfina Foundation in London; Kim McAleese, a programme director of Grand Union in Birmingham; and Zoé Whitley, the director of the Chisenhale Gallery in London, made up the Turner Prize judging panel.
As part of Coventry’s 2021 city of culture festivities, an exhibition comprising the work of the selected collectives is on display at the Herbert art gallery and museum until January 12th.
The Turner Prize was postponed last year because to the Covid epidemic. In 2019, the prize was given to all four artists on the shortlist for the first time.