Monday, December 03, 2007


I'm delighted that Mark Wallinger has won the Turner Prize this evening, for a number of reasons. First, his film 'Sleeper' (154 minutes of footage of the artist wandering around a deserted German gallery disguised as a bear) is a delightfully whimsical comment on the relationship between image, art, animality, humanity, commerce and culture. But above all, it's fun. I like to think there's a reference to Woody Allen in there, too. Plus the Hoffmeister bear. The awarding of the prize on the day that Gillian Gibbons was thankfully released from jail in Khartoum, Sudan, for the non-offence of allowing some 6 and 7-year-olds to call a teddy Muhammad added a further ironic twist.

Second, Wallinger, from an essentially non-dogmatic viewpoint, has intelligently - and good humouredly - explored the angular relationship between historic religion and contemporary society through his work. Principally through the statue Ecce Homo (see below, pictured above), a work with far more significant and wholesome theological resonance than most 'Christian' art; and earlier through Angel, in which he intriguingly ascended and descended the escalator at Angel Underground station, London, reciting parts of the Bible, forwards and backwards.

Third, of course, there is the honour the artist has paid to (as it happens, Christian) anti-Iraq war campaigner Brian Haw. The work that really won the Turner in 2007 was the one that effectively missed out before, namely 'State Britain', which faithfully recreated the peace activist's banned installation outside Westminster. Mark Wallinger said this evening: "Brian Haw is a remarkable man who has waged a tireless campaign against the folly and hubris of our government's foreign policy. For six-and-a-half years he has remained steadfast in Parliament Square, the last dissenting voice in Britain. Bring home the troops, give us back our rights, trust the people." The jury commended Wallinger, aged 48, for its "immediacy, visceral intensity and historic importance". They said: "The work combines a bold political statement with art's ability to articulate fundamental human truths." The picture on the left shows its most overtly religious sentiment.

Back in 2006 I mentioned Mark Wallinger a couple of times in this blog. In particular, the artist's "subversively simple Ecce Homo statue in Trafalgar Square. The church it faces (in an askance kind of way) is St Martin's-in-the-Field, a rather good example of transforming part of the Christendom legacy while embodying and emblemising it. The encounter between Jesus, whose sheer humanity takes us to the heart of God-beyond-'gods', and a building whose architectural freezing of divinity has become a service point for humanity, constitutes a visual parable with multiple meanings and no easy 'resolution'. Just as it should be."

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