Turner Prize announces its 2012 shortlist

This year's shortlist encompasses a mixture of art forms.

It's that time of year again: the shortlist for the Turner Prize has been announced. Spartacus Chetwynd, Luke Fowler, Paul Noble and Elizabeth Price have all been shortlisted for the award.

The Turner Prize was founded in 1984. The winner, chosen from a group of British artists under the age of 50 who has contributed significantly to the British contemporary art scene, is awarded £25,000, while the other three shortlisted each receive £5,000. 

Last year, the award was won by the Scottish sculptor Martin Boyce for his installation Do words have voices. The award ceremony, held at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead, was interrupted by the international streaker Mark Roberts who was hired by the artist Benedikt Dichgans. 

So what of the artists on this year's shortlist?

Spartacus Chetwynd

Lali Chetwynd was born and bred in London and changed her name to Spartacus - in a tribute to the Roman gladiator - in 2006. The 38-year-old is best known for her work as a performance artist, having created theatre which blurs the boundaries between performer and spectator. She encompasses a variety of art forms into her work and designs and makes the costumes and sets for her theatre. 

Chetwynd is nominated for her solo "exhibition" Odd Man Out which was at Sadie Coles HQ in London last year. Her work consisted of a five-hour theatre performance using puppetry and exploring the themes of democracy, political disengagement and the right and responsibility of voting. 

Luke Fowler

Glaswegian Luke Fowler focuses on film making. The 34-year-old has made a series of films looking at public figures who he is particularly fascinated by. He made a trilogy of films about the life of psychiatrist RD Laing, the third of which, All Divided Selves, premiered at Inverleith House in Edinburgh last year. In 2006 he released the film Pilgrimage from Scattered Points about the Scottish composer Cornelius Cardew. Both men are seen to be on the fringes of society.

Fowler is nominated for his work exhibited at Inverleith House, including the film All Divided Selves, 50 new photographs in his Two Frames photo series, and the installation Ridges on a Horizontal Plane.

Paul Noble

Paul Noble, who was born in Northumberland, now lives and works in London and is one of the five founding members of the influential artists' space, City Racing. The 38-year-old is best known for his depictions of the fictional dystopian metropolis Nobson Newton, which he has worked on for the past 16 years.

Noble is nominated for the continuation of his Nobson Newton drawings, exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery in London. The exhibition included his centrepiece, a seven-metre wide drawing across 20 sheets of paper which took him four years to create. The settlements he depicts are famous for resembling human turds.

Elizabeth Price

45-year-old Elizabeth Price encorporates moving image, text and music in her work. Her films focus on still objects and explore our relationsip with materialism. Price, who is originally from Bradford but now lives in London, is famous for her film West Hinder 2012, which was inspired by the sinking of a cargo ship in 2002 with nearly 3,000 luxury cars on board. The soundtrack to the film consisted of technical vocabulary from the cars' instruction manuals and marketing information.

Price, who used to be in the 1980s pop group Talulah Gosh, is nominated for her trilogy of installations at the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead.

The winner of the Turner Prize 2012 will be announced on 3 December 2012 at Tate Britain.

A still from Luke Fowler's film All Divided Selves. Photo by The Modern Institute/Tony Webster Ltd
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In Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seems to absorb the spirit of the whistleblower

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard. It is reassuring that a film in which people are spied can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable.

Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning 2014 documentary Citizenfour captured the precise moment at which Edward Snowden turned whistleblower after quitting his job at the NSA. Is there room for another film on the same subject? Oliver Stone’s fictionalised account, Snowden, would suggest not. In effect, it admits defeat from the get-go by using the making of Citizenfour as a framing device, incorporating flashbacks to show what led Snowden to commit the security breach that exposed the extent of US government surveillance. Cooped up in a Hong Kong hotel room with him as he spills the beans are Poitras (Melissa Leo) and the Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) and Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), who put on their best ­listening faces and try to forget that all of the most interesting scenes are happening in other parts of the film.

What Snowden has in its favour is an economical performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt which is mysterious without being aloof, cool but never cold. The actor gets the voice right (it’s a benign rumble) and though he is physically dissimilar to the real Snowden, that need be no barrier to success: look at Anthony Hopkins in Stone’s Nixon. Gordon-Levitt is absorbed by the role like water vanishing into a sponge. When the real Snowden pops up to stare wistfully off into the distance (there’s a lot of that here), it can’t help but be a let-down. People are so bad at playing themselves, don’t you find?

Gordon-Levitt makes Snowden’s mot­ives transparent without ever fully dropping his guard, and it is reassuring that a film in which people are spied on through the webcams of dormant laptops can still have a protagonist who remains essentially unknowable. The script, written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, pulls in the opposite direction, allowing every character to deliver a remark of nudging innuendo. When Snowden is discharged from the army after injuring himself, a doctor tells him: “There are plenty of other ways to serve your country.” When he is approved for a job at the CIA, Snowden tells his employer: “You won’t regret this.” What we have here, give or take the strip club scene in which a pole dancer is filmed from an ungallantly low angle, is a more sober Stone than the one who made JFK and Natural Born Killers but he still can’t resist giving us a few deafening blasts of the old irony klaxon.

Though we know by now not to expect subtlety, Stone’s storytelling techniques are still surprisingly crude. When Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay (Shailene Woodley), complains that he has become distant, that he doesn’t touch her any more, the viewer is likely to wonder why that point had to be expressed in soap-opera dialogue rather than, say, action or camera angles. After all, the film was more than happy to throw in a superfluous sex scene when their love life was hunky-dory.

But when Stone does make his points visually, the cringe factor is even higher. He used carnivorous imagery in Nixon – a bloody steak stood in for murder – and the new film doesn’t take the vegetarian option either. Snowden is already starting to be alarmed by surveillance tactics when he goes hunting with his boss, Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans). The pheasants they kill are barbecued in sizzling close-up, providing a buffet of symbolism. Snowden is going to be grilled. His goose is cooked. He’s dead meat.

An early scene showing him establishing contact with Poitras and Greenwald by an exchange of coded phrases (“What time does the restaurant open?” “Noon. But the food is a little spicy”) suggests that Stone intends to have fun with the story’s espionage trappings. The movie falls between two stools, however, lacking either the irreverence of satire or the tautness of a well-tooled thriller. At its most effective moments, it floats free of irony and captures a quaint, tactile innocence. We see Snowden communicating in sign language with an NSA colleague to avoid being eavesdropped on, or sitting in bed with a blanket over him as he taps away at his laptop. He is only hiding his passwords but he looks for all the world like a kid reading comics by torchlight after his mother has said: “Lights out.”

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump