Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Turner winners should stick to making art and leave their smug brand of politics at home

If the victors don't like competitions, why did they enter one in the first place, asks Fionola Meredith

Tai Shani, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Oscar Murillo after being announced as the joint winners of the Turner Prize
Tai Shani, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Oscar Murillo after being announced as the joint winners of the Turner Prize
Fionola Meredith

By Fionola Meredith

As a prime example of insufferably sanctimonious virtue-signalling, you don't have to look much further than this year's Turner Prize winners - yes, all four of them.

The most prestigious contemporary art prize in the UK is to be split four ways, which means each artist trousering £10,000 each, rather than one lucky winner scooping the full £40,000.

The finalists formed themselves into a collective, so that they were effectively presenting themselves to the judging panel as one artist.

The judges greeted the move with an enthusiastic thumbs-up, or jazz hands, or whatever is deemed an acceptable way of showing your appreciation these days. Definitely not clapping: far too traumatising, it might give somebody a panic attack.

"We are honoured to be supporting this bold statement of solidarity and collaboration in these divided times," the Turner judges grovelled, no doubt delighted to be the sponsors of such a high-profile display of right-on behaviour.

Now, just to be clear, this wasn't a canny plot to make sure that each of the finalists got to cash in and share the loot. Darling, of course not! Who could imagine such a vile, mercenary scheme?

In their joint letter to the panel, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Tai Shani and Oscar Murillo said they wanted to make a "collective statement" at a time when there was "already so much that divides and isolates people and communities".

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They said they all made art "about social and political issues and contexts we believe are of great importance and urgency" and it would "feel problematic" if they were pitted against each other, "with the implication that one was more important, significant or more worthy of attention than the others".

Winners and losers: such an offensive, quasi-fascist idea, isn't it? So revoltingly Trumpish. So typical of the Boris Johnson Bullingdon Club mentality.

After the shock prize announcement was made, Cammock read a joint statement, saying their work was "incompatible with the competition format, whose tendency is to divide and to individualise".

Well, if you don't like competition, what are you doing taking part in one in the first place?

Most people don't actually give a stuff about all this, except for its entertainment value, and probably think it's just more of the same daft, self-indulgent nonsense the Turner Prize has become known for.

Personally, I'm keen on contemporary art. Some of it is embarrassingly dire, yes, but that's also true of plenty of 'traditional' boring, lame artworks.

I like to see art that surprises me, moves me, makes me think, makes me dream. I don't care if it's ugly or beautiful. I just care if it's good.

I once spent a full half-hour in a gallery in Berlin watching a fuzzy video projection of a woman violently stripping wallpaper with a bullwhip. It was brilliant. Well, maybe you had to be there to get it.

It's not the art itself I'm slagging, it's the Turner artists themselves. Don't they realise how smug, disconnected and elitist they sound as they hug each other in triumph and boast about how unconventional and non-competitive they are?

Darlings, I hate to break it to you, but despite your bold gesture, competition will continue to exist. It is a normal, unavoidable part of living in the world.

There will always be winners and losers. We are regularly pitted against one another. Every exam you sit, every job you go for, every promotion you apply for, involves competition.

It is the very essence of most sports, and it's what makes them thrilling.

Imagine the Premier League if all the football clubs got together and decided to share the trophy because it would be much nicer, more democratic and less divisive.

Competition can be healthy. It animates people, motivates them, gets them out of their beds in the mornings.

It can reward persistence, patience and talent. It's only when it gets out of control that it starts getting harmful - when it becomes an overwhelming need to win: to be smarter, better, faster and harder-working than anyone else.

If nothing else, this year's Turner Prize confirms a suspicion I've long harboured: that most artists should concentrate on making art, rather than talking about it.

Too often, what they say - or write - about their own work comes out sounding incredibly pompous, politicised or pretentious. Naturally enough, that puts people off going into galleries.

Let the art speak for itself, and the rest of us will judge if it's any good or not.

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