Architect collective Assemble has made it to the 2015 Turner Prize shortlist. Judge Alistair Hudson, of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, tells us why and what it says about art
How did Assemble end up on the Turner Prize shortlist? What exactly was their exhibition?
The judges looked at a lot of art projects with a social context and Assemble’s work had definitely been on their radar. It was nominated for its Granby Four Streets project in Liverpool, where residents commissioned it to help regenerate a blighted inner city area. We’re now a lot more interested in art, design and architecture being a social practice rather than an isolated discipline.
A few architects have said it’s not art
Unfortunately, since the 19th century the concept of art has been tied in with a Romantic ideal of the lone genius. From the Renaissance to Arts and Crafts it was embedded in society and usefully served it. Kant first defined the concept of ‘useless art’ and when a Picasso will go for nearly $180m, it reinforces the disconnect from the real world that such thinking engenders. Put the shoe on the other foot – do you think that Assemble would win the Stirling Prize with its Granby project?
So was Duchamp right? With his readymades can art just be how you look at something?
Duchamp set about to critique the rarefied world of art – the problem was the art market enshrined and embalmed it. Modernism, constructivism and futurism were political in nature but capitalism supplanted their use value with economic value. Assemble opposes this. It took an abandoned site with no value and through grass roots engagement and art, created a space of social worth.
But isn’t it just buying into the status quo rather than being radical?
You have to work in the system. Assemble is creating something out of nothing. It might become the coolest place in Liverpool one day but the primary intention is to give a community somewhere to live and use art to facilitate that. It’s radical when disempowered residents use artists to help better their lives. With them, Assemble is challenging supply and demand in housing using art. Anyway, the idea of the ‘radical’ genius artist is a well-worn groove and it’s time we moved away from it.
You’re based in Erick van Egeraat’s MIMA gallery. How are you finding it?
Problematic! MIMA was a millennium project designed in that 19th century model – great spaces for ‘sacred’ art and the community aspects of café, shop and offices squeezed in around them. Our job is to educate in a civic capacity and to do that I think we need to change the space. We’re working with the global Arte Utile group, looking to extend art to what I’ll call ‘all constituent users’. I’m considering a curated gym in one of the main gallery spaces. Free exercise, free art, free learning – making the idea of the institution a habit again!
As well as Assemble, the £25,000 Turner Prize shortlist contains three other artists. Janice Kerbel’s operatic work ‘DOUG’ borrows from conventional modes of narrative to create elaborate imagined forms. Through audio recordings, performances and printed matter, it is a performing work of nine songs for six voices. Bonnie Camplin’s ‘The Military Industrial Complex’ critiques existing power structures and takes the form of a study room exploring what ‘concensus reality’ is and how it is formed. Nicole Wermers’ ‘Infrastruktur’ creates sculptures, collages and installations exploring appropriation of art and design in consumer culture. Her installation alludes to themes of lifestyle, class, consumption and control. Exhibited from 1 October at the Tramway, Glasgow, the winner will be announced on Monday 7 December 2015.