The Turner prize, the UK’s foremost annual award for British visual artists. is for one reason or another one of the most watched events internationally even though it is not an international event. There is prescience to this award that rings beyond the British Isles, predicting style shifts and content changes.
An instance is when the prize went Grayson Perry. As he said in his acceptance speech, “I do not know whether me getting this award is going to cause a fuss because I wear frocks or make pots.” He wisely predicted that the latter would trump cross-dressing. That moment, when he accepted the award from a bemused Nicholas Serota now can be seen as a factor in clay’s shift from the verboten medium to its current ubiquity on the art scene.
Now the Prize has taken another step that is as significant as ArchDaily explains:
“Assemble, a collective of artists, designers and architects based in London, have been shortlisted for the Turner Prize –. Much to the delight and surprise of members of the profession, this young collaborative team are the first spatial designers to be recognised by this prize in its three decade history, leading Sam Jacob to assert that they “represent something different: a validation of the belief that there are other ways of doing things.” The four nominees for the award also include London artist Bonnie Camplin and German-born Nicole Wermers.
“Comprised of eighteen members and established in 2010, their working practice “seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made.” They have championed a working practice which is both independent and collaborative, developing projects which engage the public as both a participant and collaboration in the on-going realisation of the work. Although the majority of the collective studied architecture at Cambridge University, others are from backgrounds rooted in the study of English, History, Philosophy, or construction.”
The project that clinched their inclusion on the shortlist is Granby Four Streets, a cluster of brick terraced houses in Toxteth, Liverpool. The homes were built around 1900 to house artisan workers. Following the Toxteth riots in 1981, the council acquired many of the houses in the area for demolition and redevelopment. Hundreds of people were moved out the area and the houses subsequently fell into disrepair.
Local residents consistently fought plans for demolition and battled to save the houses. Over the past ten years they have cleaned and planted their streets, painted the empty houses, organized a thriving monthly market, founded a Community Land Trust and shown their area in a different light.
Assemble worked with the Granby Four Streets CLT and Steinbeck Studios to present a sustainable and incremental vision for the area that builds on the hard work already done by local residents and translates it to the refurbishment of housing, public space and the provision of new work and enterprise opportunities.
The approach is characterized by celebrating the value of the area’s architectural and cultural heritage, supporting public involvement and partnership working, offering local training and employment opportunities and nurturing the resourcefulness and DIY spirit that defines the four streets.
A bed-hopping affair has been going on between design and fine art for some time with the latter, usually territorial, being more open, even eager for collaboration. At the same time, design is becoming a area where artists are becoming more and more active (see the illy cups by Yoko Ono). This is a very different response to the hostile rebuff when craft tried to enter the Kingdom of High Art in the late 20th century.
This could be a major turning point, a new definition of visual art that is all-inclusive.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.