All art is subjective
It is not often that one can make exact predictions in art. But if the Turner Prize is awarded this year, there is a fifty percent chance that a work will win that was nominated for the Documenta, the world art show that took place in Kassel last year. And with one hundred percent certainty it will be a work of art that could be attributed to "video realism", that is, a film or a video installation that is committed to reality. The Tate Gallery in London is currently showing the work of the nominated artists.
This video realism is an art form that has developed inconspicuously, but is now regarded as the medium of the hour. There is hardly an exhibition of contemporary art - especially the many biennials or group exhibitions - that can do without these films. Its tradition goes back to the 19th century, to Gustave Courbet's "Kornsieberinnen" and his "Steinklopfer" or Honoré de Balzac's novels about farmers, crab fishermen and petty bourgeoisie.
In the past, artists filmed art, today they film the world
The realist writers and artists worked relentlessly on the image of their time and deliberately renounced all theatrics, to which the audience initially reacted with incomprehension. At times she found the stories and paintings simply banal.
At Documenta 14 in Kassel, the public reacted irritated to bored to the numerous recordings of Chinese miners and European war veterans. Naeem Mohaiemen, now nominated for the Turner Prize, showed under the title "Tripoli Canceled" how he roamed a disused Greek airport for hours and reconstructed the international ones - mainly from news images - in his 89-minute "Two Meetings and a Funeral" Conferences of Non-Aligned States in the 1960s and 1970s. A story about decolonization, in which such political utopias appear that have found no place in world history.
The research of the Forensic Architecture collective founded by Eyal Weizman also focuses on events that get lost in the stream of daily news. In Kassel, the artists, architects and filmmakers re-examined the murder of Halit Yozgat by the NSU terrorist group for the Documenta and came to the conclusion in the software-aided reconstruction that the German protection of the constitution was most likely involved.
In London, Forensic Architecture are now dealing with a current case from the Middle East. "The Long Duration of a Split Second" looks at - with authentic recordings and computer simulations - the police search of a Bedouin village in Israel, which ended with the death of a villager. The search for truth is seen as an artistic task.
Adrian Searle praised the Guardian this year's show of the nominees as the most political exhibition in the history of the Turner Prize. But while the experienced critic obviously enjoyed the fact that he needed half a day to see all of the works, the audience is visibly alienated with the presentation in London's Tate Gallery, a classic, column-lined picture house. The BBC - endeavoring to mediate art - even sent Oxford ancient historian Mary Beard, a gray eminence of intellectuality, who, together with video artists Jane and Louise Wilson, shared their openly admitted reservations - "Is it rude to just go on after a few minutes?" - overcame.
The curators have also built a stable framework for the flow of images: In the middle of the exhibition there is a lounge with sofas and a low table on which historical and political literature is displayed alongside catalogs. From there, four entrances open into soundproofed halls furnished with all technical sophistication, in which one has to follow the long, very private recordings of Charlotte Prodger's installation "Bridgit" until one understands how a queer identity is found from cat pictures, mountain landscapes and forest panoramas puzzles together.
One room further, Luke Willis Thompson's 35-millimeter films projected to fill the wall unfold with the presence of monuments. There, accompanied by the whirring of the projectors, you see nothing but silent portraits, for example that of the grandson of Dorothy "Cherry" Groce, who was shot by the British police in her apartment in Brixton in 1985. Or Graeme, the son of Joy Gardner, who died in Crouch End when she was arrested during a search. Or Diamond Reynolds, who posted live on Facebook of her boyfriend's death in a Minnesota police shootout.
The synopsis of the Turner Prize nominees this year gives space to all of these politically motivated, always resolutely partisan works. It is the moment when contemporary video realism becomes unmistakable. Because video was - as a technology - in art initially simply there to record performances or to preserve cinematic stagings and then up until the 1990s it was primarily concerned with its own medium, for example surveillance, television or the Internet. But then the artists discovered the documentary qualities of the electronic image. In the video or film you could locate yourself locally, contextualize the other art objects rich in words and images. And the audience also became increasingly familiar and well versed in handling moving images.
The art video is not a news broadcast. This is exactly where its quality lies
Contemporary video realism differs from classic documentaries because it - subjectively like all art - does not allow itself to be bound by rules. This repeatedly irritates journalists who ask why art is allowed to report unbalanced about the world, but the television news is not. That Luke Willis Thompson gives grief a long, silent appearance - and relegates the facts about British police violence to the scenes.
But that is exactly the quality of these works. The art video is not a news broadcast, and the museum is not a public broadcaster with equal oversight bodies. Art is the space in which it is allowed to say what an artist - only committed to his own work - has to say about his world, his time. The jury, which this year nominated four artists for the most important art award in the world, who are deeply focused on the present and its trauma, did a good job. After this statement, it is no longer decisive who will be honored by them.
Turner Prize 2018. Tate Gallery, London. Until January 6th. The winner of the award will be this Tuesdayannounced in the evening.
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