23 Sep, 2009

Meet the Jarman award nominees

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

On the eve of this year’s Jarman award winner being announced, Laura McLean-Ferris gives us a guide to the four shortlisted video artists hoping to clinch tomorrow’s £10,000 prize

Anja Kirschner and David Panos

Who: This pair live in London, and the city appears often in their work, from Hackney to Docklands, exploring the history that has shaped each area. They revisit literary dramas and historical events of the past with fresh eyes, creating wildly entertaining period dramas that put the BBC’s Desperate Romantics to shame. The difference, however, is that the historical inconsistencies and liberal attitude to fact in their films are carefully plotted to jolt us out of historical reverie and into the present time, to draw comparison between the ages.

Why they’ve been nominated: The duo’s previous two films, The Trail of the Spider (2008) and Polly II (2006), have toured all over the country over the last two years, from Transmission Gallery in Glasgow, to Fact in Liverpool and London’s Tate Modern. This year brought a solo exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery, London, in which they showed their latest film, the hour-long Last Days of Jack Sheppard (2009). Drawing analogies between the depictions of economic strife in 18th-century print culture and today’s mass media, the film is made in a style that blends Brechtian stagecraft, children’s TV and poetic allegory, which is at times hilarious, though the artists’ intentions and meaning are urgent and serious.

Winning odds: Fairly high – their films tick an unlikely combination of boxes: locally and ingeniously made, politically relevant, ambitiously cinematic and the right dash of postmodern frolics. 

Simon Martin

Who: Martin shares Kirschner and Panos’s interest in the way that images and representations shape reality, and like them, he also had a recent exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery. With a scientific, almost mathematical gaze, Martin trains his unflinching eye on a particular subject, and then appears to concentrate on it for months, even years. His film Carlton (2006) is a nine-minute, detailed visual analysis of the Carlton shelving unit – a brightly coloured, almost totemic postmodern design by the Memphis group. A female narrator describes the shelving unit as though it were an ancient museum artefact and ruminates that it carried a “mutated postmodern gene” that survived and spawned countless related designs. He will be spending a lot of time in Durham Cathedral over the next year, as he becomes the landmark’s artist in residence.

Why he’s been nominated: Widely respected, having exhibited at New York’s White Columns and Toronto’s Power Plant gallery, Martin was included in the Tate Triennial in 2006, and is represented by London’s Carl Freedman Gallery.

Winning odds: The purist’s choice. Intelligent and tricky work that the judges may pick in order to set the prize’s conceptual bar high.

Stephen Sutcliffe

Who: Sutcliffe revisits the recent past in his films. Putting to use his own vast archive of TV, film, video and audio recordings, he splices film and audio together like an alchemist of times past. In We’ll Let You Know (2008), he juxtaposes footage of an eager Ian McKellen on a theatre stage discussing the finer points of Shakespeare with a snarky voiceover that appears to be discreetly auditioning him: “Be as quick as you can, would you please?” McKellen continues unaware as the voice heckles: “Oh God … Get him out of here!” Creativity pointed at just the wrong angle can be vicious, disturbing and harmful, and Sutcliffe’s films often reveal the quietly overlooked anxieties of class and leadership in Britain. Hailing from north Yorkshire, Sutcliffe now lives and works in Glasgow.

Why he’s been nominated: His work was included in the ICA’s Nought to Sixty programme last year, a survey of 60 British artists whom the curators believed would be shaping the future. Though Sutcliffe’s work has not yet been seen a great deal in the UK, he has a stack of exhibitions lined up, including a solo show at highly respected gallery Cubitt in November.

Winning odds: Outside chance. His intriguing take on bullying and power dynamics seems right for our current media climate: the panel may yet decide that it’s his time for the limelight.

Lindsay Seers

Who: Seers’s films have a sinister, brooding take on documentary tradition, and the London-based artist has been exhibiting film as well as photography for some time. Her film Extramission 6 (2009) was a highlight of this year’s Tate Triennial, and features Seers’s friends and family discussing the almost paranormal problems that she had growing up. According to the film, Seers was mute until she saw a photograph of herself, at which point she decided to become a human camera – a morbid, depressing vocation for the artist that begins to take its toll. Trees burst into flames, women project light from their eyes and Thomas Edison’s Black Maria studio appears repeatedly, like a dark omen. Is any of it true? It doesn’t matter: Seers’s films are so seductive – the art film equivalent of the gothic page-turner – that you will not want to let go of her eerie visions.

Why she’s been nominated: Seers has come to far wider attention in 2009, with a haunting solo exhibition entitled It Has to Be This Way at Matt’s Gallery in London’s East End, and inclusion in this year’s Tate Triennial, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud.

Winning odds: Favourite to win – if any of the judges have fallen under the hypnotic spell of her films, they won’t manage to resist. 

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