This year an Irish pub installation has been crowned winner of the coveted Turner Prize. By translating their activism into artwork, Belfast-based activist group Array Collective won the £25,000 prize.
The instalment recreates a seemingly traditional Irish pub filled with jokes, songs, banners, and papier-mâché models in funny costumes. A list of pub rules insists visitors must “have a laugh“. But on closer inspection, the drinking den also conveys some political and social messages. It includes banners advocating reproductive rights and protesting against conversion therapy.
“What they deal with is really serious stuff, LGBT issues, feminist perspectives on issues today in a divided society, even a sectarian society,” said jury chair and Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson, about Array Collective. “What the jury feels is remarkable is that kind of amazing lightness of touch and play and conviviality and sense of hospitality, and the sense of carnival that they bring to the work.”
The judges ultimately praised Array Collective for their “hopeful and dynamic artwork”. Yet some have criticised the work for not being artsy enough. Writing for the Guardian, Jonathan Jones remarked “it’s fun, and surely has relevance in a region bedevilled by religious bigotry, but it only has the thinnest smear of artistic meaning.”
Earlier in May, Turner Prize organisers announced that this year’s nominees are helping to “inspire social change through art“. It’s the first year that all nominees are collectives too, including Black Obsidian Sound System, Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical, and Project Art Works. Each runner up was also awarded a £10,000 prize.
The top award was presented to Array Collective by The Selecter singer Pauline Black at Coventry Cathedral during a live broadcast of BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. The collective’s win signals the return of the Turner Prize, having been cancelled in 2020 due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Last year’s prize was instead replaced by a £100,000 bursary, which was shared equally amongst ten struggling artists.