Hastings Battleaxe comes late to the Turner Prize party

Late indeed. The Turner Prize exhibition of the short-listed work by four artists has been on at the Towner in Eastbourne since September, and the prize was awarded in December, to Jesse Darling, for his assemblage of strange objects including bent crowd control barriers. I guess readers will know enough by now about Battleaxe’s struggles with modern, non-representational art not to want to hear any more confused ramblings…but still, it was a rare sunny day, so we thought we’d combine a visit to the Towner with a walk in the sun…

Jesse Darling

Here is an article from the Guardian, about the competition – not very complimentary.  Arrived at the Towner, and as usual, headed upstairs to the  top of the gallery to get a coffee in  the cafe, which was always quite good. Hell, I’ve even held it up to the Hastings Contemporary as an example of what a gallery cafe should be. But oh horrors – no longer. It has been ‘up-graded’ to a table-service restaurant, called ‘Light’.  They did eventually serve us coffee – at a price. It seems that the proper coffee area is now in a cramped and dark compound on the ground floor. Oh Towner, what have you done!

New restaurant – not appreciated.

As you can imagine, that experience put us in no mood to appreciate the Turner Prize exhibition. We started on the ground floor with a collection of ventilation duct pipes and a fountain in a metal tub, by Ghislaine Leung. I couldn’t even enthuse myself to take any pictures. I’ve copied the gallery’s blurb about each exhibit from their Turner brochure. Here’s the first one… You’ll see she is into ‘score-based artworks’, aka a list of instructions for the gallery staff. I’d thought that for something as important as the Turner Prize, she’d have done better to come along and tell them where to put things in person… but what do I know.

Next, upstairs. Firstly, Jesse Darling, the winner. Looked like he had thrown everything into the gallery space including the kitchen sink. An apparently random collection of objects exploring a random collection of themes. Reading about him, I sense he might well revel in taking the piss out of the art establishment -I say no more. A couple of bits were quite witty, e.g the dusty old files filled with blocks of concrete – about work, bureaucracy etc I guess.

Files full of concrete

Reminds me of when I used to run away-events for management teams, boards etc. at work. To pass a few hours in the interminable days, I used to set them exercises like making a collage picture of their organisational culture out of cut-up magazines (and the occasional dessicated frog. The cat would chase the poor creatures into the paper pile at the back of our larder in Birmingham, where they would eventually die…). Anyway, the bods would reluctantly set to work and I’d enjoy a nice break. (Readers, people would pay me hundreds of pounds for this…). But the results were often interesting and highly creative. Lots of symbolic representations of the dead weight of bureaucracy, the circularity of change etc etc.  I wish I’d kept some of their efforts. You could make a good exhibition of them. Made me wonder what those people could do if they were given a whole warehouse of stuff to play with, and the time and permission to get stuck in. Would they do as well as Jesse Darling? Probably not. The likes of him have been free, creative  spirits all their short lives, while the likes of the Property Services Director of  X Housing Association would have suffered at least 25 years of creativity-stifling grind. But it is interesting…

Then we looked very briefly at RAFTS, Rory Pilgrim’s film. So briefly that I can’t say anything about it. Philosopher and I very rarely watch films in galleries, unless our feet are killing us and we want to sit down.

Next, Barbara Walker, with her wonderful drawings ‘Burden of Proof’. Now, Battleaxe, being old-fashioned, would have made her the winner, partly because she can actually draw. I still have the primitive belief that to be a good artist, you actually have to be good at one of the artistic disciplines – drawing, painting, sculpture or whatever else. The Windrush messages were a bit heavy-handed, but at least she had a simple, compelling narrative.  Her stuff was, to me, far the best.  Philosopher gets cross about constantly having improving and worthy messages force-fed to him, but half the time I don’t even get what’s supposed to be going on.

Anyway, am not quite finished with the Towner quite yet. As you go upstairs to the upper galleries/caff there is a big window where once you could stop and admire the wonderful view across the Eastbourne tennis courts. What have they now done? Stuck huge letters across it… Why, Towner, why?

Where has the view gone?

But outside, there was something worthwhile. This huge structure by Michael Rakowitz is entirely covered with empty Iraqi date syrup cans. It is a reconstruction of the ancient Iamassu of Ninevah, a winged bull deity that stood outside the city gates until it was destroyed by Isis in 2015.  This structure now at the Towner formerly stood on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. Here is an article about it. The empty tins represent the Iraqi date palm industry, now also destroyed by recent wars. It reminds us of the utter horror of the Middle East, and also reminds us that ancient Mesopotamia was where our civilisation began – see the lettering on one side of the creature… is it cuneiform?

I noticed this book in the gallery book shop as we left. Perhaps I need it.

So, out we went into the beautiful sunny blue…. phew.



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