Named after the English painter, William Turner, the Turner Prize is a prestigious award given to British artists that have endeavoured to push contemporary art to new heights. Ever since its inception in 1984, the Turner Prize has had a minimum of one sculpture or painting on its shortlist – until now. Instead, the rooms of the exhibition have been adorned with projected screens of films, rather than the traditional sculptures and paintings that have for so long dominated the award, a first for the Turner Prize and one that has marked 2018 as a memorable moment in its history.
Previous winners of the Turner Prize have predominantly been painters or sculptors. Last year’s Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, who was awarded an MBE in 2010, is an artist who focuses on the experiences of black men and women using paintings that deconstruct the news and the resulting implied narratives. In fact, the last time a non-painter or sculptor won the Turner Prize was in 2014, when Duncan Campbell was awarded the prize for his experimental film It For Others, that investigated the ways in which we provide meaning to historical objects.
Naeem Mohaiemen (a documentarist), Charlotte Prodger (a Glasgow-based video-diarist) and Luke Willis Thompson (a video elegist) are on this year’s shortlist alongside Forensic Architecture, a group based in Goldsmiths University of London that focus on global human rights atrocities. This new focus on films rather than painting and sculptures is a reflection on the rise of film as an art form. Awards such as the Oscars and Palme d’Or have cemented films as a legitimate art form in the public consciousness, but the Turner Prize shortlist reinforces the relevance of film in investigating and exploring themes and tangible problems that occur in society – all while maintaining the artistic flair that the genre allows.
Whether by design or fortune, the all-film shortlist also comes at an appropriate time. Following the allegations of sexual assault and misconduct by former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein, there has been a more intense scrutiny surrounding films and the film industry. The call for diversification, along with the #MeToo movement, has occurred in the fallout of the scandal, putting pressure on promoters to provide transparency and diversification within their exhibitions and awards. In so doing, the Turner Prize’s diverse array of talent and subgenres lend itself well to a critique and response to Hollywood – whether intentional or not – which has frequently been accused of whitewashing roles.
Image: Jimmy Harris via Flickr