Looking back at us accusingly … Heather Phillipson’s Rupture No 6: blowtorching the bitten peach at Tate Liverpool. Photograph: Adam Vaughan/EPA
The gender-swapping work of Sin Wai Kin opens up a world of possibilities, while Heather Phillipson’s end-of-the-world installation gains from reconfiguration
The Turner Prize exhibition this year begins with Heather Phillipson’s recreation of her Rupture No 1: blowtorching the bitten peach piece from the Tate Britain in 2021. Phillipson’s work has been newly rearranged for the top level of Tate Liverpool, and it gains from the change. From nature programs, a series of blinking eyes stare back at us accusingly, as though the ecological disaster is all our responsibility, which it most certainly is. The gallery walls are covered in a video depicting swan migration and impending storms. The curlews are also grumbling. On a large screen, the sun rises like a peach, and Phillipson informs us in a brand-new audio commentary that is playable via a sea of hanging headphones that the Earth is a flambéed tomato.
Her deadpan, sarcastic tone propels Phillipson’s audio compositions, which are a mosaic of voices (she has received awards for her several volumes of poetry). Big propane gas cylinders are struck by clanging chunks of metal in the midst of her end-of-the-world comedic piece, heralding the end of times in a tottering shed.
On the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square, Phillipson’s The End provoked both awe and revulsion. Many people were against it. It was always intended to be awful and diseased. Her act has always included going too far as a reflection of how terrible consumerist civilization is.
A solipsistic world … a gallery assistant poses with Sin Wai Kin’s A Dream of Wholeness in Parts at Tate Liverpool. Photograph: Adam Vaughan/EPA
This mindset also serves as the foundation for Sin Wai Kin’s movies, artifacts, and photographs. The Toronto-born performer transports us to a solipsistic universe in which they take on the roles of all four members of a gorgeous but corny boy/girl band. The various selves in their longest movie, which is also on display at the current British Art Show 9 in Plymouth, are all just one continuous interconnected presentation of the self, whomever that is. The artist, once known as Victoria Sin, stands on a rocky beach with crashing waves while walking through the shadowy alleyways of Taipei, playing chess with a duplicate, and riding a risky hotel elevator. They may seem to be a parodic Botticelli Venus one moment, then be chowing down on noodle soup like they’re devouring the planet the next. The won ton soup’s little meat pouches quiver with juiciness and have begun to converse.
Is the performer a female who is performing in drag as a boy? It’s all a game of potential, sometimes with a six-pack, other times with a moustache, but always dressed like a superhero or a God from Chinese opera. Any attire, hairstyle, or makeup is a drag performance in some manner. The artist moves between genders and social norms, emerging and then vanishes in the spaces between positions.
A small collection of makeup-drawn self-portraits in dramatic lighting are almost the highlight of this collection. As you go closer, the pictures perfectly match the shadow of your own head that the dramatic gallery lighting casts over them. This was planned. These pictures are a type of Veronica’s Veil that hangs in front of your own gloomy head and threatens to consume you; they are an almost miraculous apparition.
A source of disquiet and frustration … works by Veronica Ryan. Photograph: Adam Vaughan/EPA
Veronica Ryan displays her sculptures on a stage-like, sunny setting. This is a source of unease and irritation, since none of her carefully constructed, frangible things can be approached. Her manufactured lightbulbs and seed pouches that she crocheted, her bronze-cast magnolia pods and plaster, hairnet, and string confections, and her arrangements of cloth and fishing line, grapefruit peel, bronze, and thread beg for intimacy. Her collections of huge, stitched-up teabags, brass ferrules, bagged-up butter beans, pendulous, hanging nets, medical pillows, and rebuilt soursops all include charming and odd moments. But why hold us at a distance when everything is about touch, delicateness, closeness, and surprise conjunctions? Does she believe we’ll damage her belongings? She must be considering these forms as a whole, as well as their secret interactions and covert existence, from which we are in part excluded.
Ingrid Pollard’s images depicting a young black girl curtseying. Photograph: Rob Harris/Ingrid Pollard
Ingrid Pollard’s presentation contains pictures of the countryside, carvings of busts and pub signs, pictures of bars named the Black Boy, and a road sign that reads Black Boy Wood on a housing development. Her writing explores the history and current status of black images in rural England. This glossary is only one of several topics. A collection of images discovered in an archive at Glasgow Women’s Library records protests against the anti-gay Section 28, the execution of black teacher Colin Roach, and the occupation of Grenada. According to Pollard, there is a connection between all of these demonstrations, and implicit racism and homophobia are pervasive across British society.
Pollard displays art that dates from the 1990s to the present, including a series of discovered pictures showing a young black girl bowing in the spotlight. Three moving, mechanical sculptures go with them. One is a loud assembly of big saw blades that waves, scrapes, and tilts like a type of baton. They are almost agrarian in their construction and crude in their mechanics. A simple rope figure moves and bows in another, while a baseball bat is swinging back and forth in the third. I don’t grasp these haphazard, violent things that Oliver Smart, a sculptor, developed and made. They don’t really do much to improve her show, which inexplicably lacks purpose other than make noise and end violently.
Pollard and Ryan are the two older people present, having been born in 1953 and 1956, respectively. Both have extensive, mostly unappreciated careers that have just seen a welcome rebirth. With her fourth plinth and Tate commissions, Phillipson has garnered a lot of attention, whereas Sin Wai Kin is, I think, the wild card. The work of Sin Wai Kin and Phillipson seems the most vibrant, based just on the presentations in Liverpool, whereas Pollard and Ryan sound formal conservative, serious, but in some ways dull.
From October 20 to March 19, the Tate Liverpool will host the Turner Prize 2022.
Thanks to Adrian Searle at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.