I was excited to learn of my cousin Ciara Phillips’ nomination for the 2014 Turner Prize. It was even more exciting to attend the September 29 opening at Tate Britain of the exhibition of the four finalists. I have followed Ciara’s career from afar and witnessed the evolution of her art over the years. So, it was a very special occasion to see her work in real time and to be part of the celebration. Ciara is the first Canadian-born artist nominated for the Turner Prize. She lives and works in Glasgow.
In the announcement of the nominees for this year’s award, the British press has been commenting on the range of media employed by the finalists including video, found film footage and photographs, screen print and textile, and the spoken word. Quite an eclectic mix of stimuli and materials greet the viewer as one passes from one exhibition to another.
Working on her own, or in collaboration with others, and often with a strong focus on social activism, Ciara draws on her skills as a screen-print maker (on paper, photographs, textiles), photographer and designer. One of this year’s judges was quoted as saying that what was constant in Phillips’ work was “…an incredibly strong graphic sensibility, a really vibrant use of colour and a sense of humour.”
What stands out about Ciara is her interest in approaching art as a social engagement. She collaborates with other artists and at times with individuals or groups active in addressing social issues. Ciara’s Turner Prize nomination was based on her solo exhibition at the Showroom, London, were she created a print studio [Workshop (2010-ongoing) 2013] and invited other artists and designers as well as members of an advocacy group, Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW), to be part of the creative process. J4DW is an organization of immigrant domestic workers in Britain. One outcome of the workshop was the creation of a number of banners one of which was used later in the day at a rally of domestic workers and is still being used by the organization.
The exhibition limitations at Tate Britain did not allow Ciara to replicate an activist-centred environment that she is best known for. She opted instead to provide a demonstration of her artistic practice with elements of previous work in a highly charged landscape of color. Her print making takes center stage with hundreds of handmade prints on paper that cover the gallery walls – floor to ceiling. This full-on treatment of multi-colored prints and the resulting abstract patterns that are created further showcase her strong design and color skills.
I enjoy Ciara’s sense of humour and the way she challenges us with her minimalist approach to communication. In her work she will often use the single letters K, N, O and place them individually in a field of vivid color hues, often displayed in a group of two. Once you have enjoyed the visual effect you are left to determine if a message was intended.
With her nomination Ciara joins an internationally recognized group of artists who over the years (1984 to the present) have fascinated the art world through various media and not without some controversy. Among previous nominees of particular interest to me are: Gilbert and George, Damien Hirst, Gillian Wearing, Chris Ofili, Mike Nelson, and, Jake and Dinos Chapman.
I share the opinion reproduced below, expressed by one gallery-goer and left on the comment board provided by Tate Britain.
To be given public recognition and honoured in mid-career for your life’s passion is a remarkable accomplishment. No matter which of the four nominees receives the award they each will be able to take pride in the fact that their work is receiving the attention of the international art world.
The exhibition of Turner Prize finalists will continue at Tate Britain until January 4, 2015. The prize will be awarded on December 1, 2014.