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
Donmar Warehouse
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Limehouse raises the question of when party loyalty becomes political irresponsibility

Labour's “Gang of Four” are brought to life brilliantly at the Donmar Warehouse.

A star of the Labour Party right wing, exiled from the shadow cabinet for deviating from the dominant orthodoxy, rants about how a decent but weak Labour leader, with an election-losing anti-European, anti-nuclear manifesto, risks letting the prime minister get away with whatever she wants.

Laughter shows that the audience gets what the dramatist Steve Waters is up to. Limehouse takes place on 25 January 1981, when a gentle veteran, Michael Foot, seems to be leading Labour to such sure oblivion at the next election that Dr David Owen has summoned his fellow moderates Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and (just back from a stint running Europe) Roy Jenkins to Sunday lunch in his kitchen in east London. This meeting led the “Gang of Four”, as they became known, to make a statement of estrangement from Labour that heralded the creation of the Social Democratic Party.

Waters was inspired by a New Statesman interview in which Rodgers wondered if the left-right divide under Jeremy Corbyn might justify a similar evacuation of the pragmatists now. The debates that the play stages – fidelity to party and national tribes against a fear of political and historical irrelevance – feel hotly topical.

Williams, considering an offer to abandon Labour and teach at Harvard, faced then the dilemma of an Ed Balls or Tristram Hunt now. And Labour members today who fantasise about a new progressive grouping might reflect that, while the SDP briefly seemed a plausible alternative to Thatcherism (winning 7.8 million votes at the 1983 election), the middle-class revolution was squeezed externally by two-party domination and internally by disputes over leadership and direction.

But, for all the parallel relevance, the success of Limehouse ultimately depends on the convincing re-creation of an era and its people. Enjoyable period details include the luxury macaroni cheese to a recipe by Delia Smith that Debbie Owen, Delia’s literary agent, chops and fries on stage to fuel her husband’s discussions with his three wary comrades. Waters also skilfully uses the mechanics of a pre-digital world – having to go out for newspapers, going upstairs to answer a phone – to get one character out of the way to allow others to talk about them.

As a good playwright should, Waters votes for each character in turn. Owen, though teased for vanity and temper, is allowed a long speech that honours his status as one of the most memorable orators in modern British politics. Tom Goodman-Hill samples Owen’s confident baritone without going the whole Rory Bremner.

Playing Jenkins, a man celebrated for both a speech defect and rococo cadences, Roger Allam has no choice but to deliver the voice perfectly, which he does. Waters carefully gives the character an early riff about the “crepuscular greyness” of Brussels, allowing Allam to establish the w-sounds and extravagant adjectives. Actor and playwright also challenge the assumption that for Jenkins both to love fine wine and to advocate social justice was inevitably a contradiction.

Debra Gillett refreshingly avoids the scattiness that caricaturists attribute to Williams, stressing instead her large brain and deep soul, in a portrayal that increases the sense of shame that the Tories should lead Labour 2-0 in the score of female prime ministers. As Rodgers (in Beatles terms, the Ringo of the confab four), Paul Chahidi touchingly suggests a politician who knows that he will always be a bag-man but still agonises over whose luggage to carry.

Unfolding over 100 minutes, Polly Findlay’s production has a lovely rhythm, staging the delayed entrances of Jenkins and Williams for maximum impact. Biodramas about the living or recently dead can be hobbled by a need to negotiate objections of tact or fact. Politicians, however, often purchase even the rudest cartoons of themselves for the loo wall, and the real Owen, Williams and Rodgers laughed warmly during, and strongly applauded after, the first night.

At an impromptu press conference afterwards, a genial and generous Owen astutely observed that what at the time was “a very happy day in our house” has been dramatised as tragicomedy. But, regardless of whether Marx was right about history repeating itself the second time as farce, the possibility that farce is being repeated in Labour Party history has encouraged a compelling play that is sublimely enjoyable but also deeply serious – on the question of when loyalty to party can become disloyalty to political responsibility.

“Limehouse” runs until 15 April

Mark Lawson is a journalist and broadcaster, best known for presenting Front Row on Radio 4 for 16 years. He writes a weekly column in the critics section of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution