Videos in focus for Turner Prize

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Images ranging from film of defaced, sexually explicit photos in art books in a Tokyo library to a picture of an Irish Republican Army fighter silhouetted against a burning building feature in works of the Turner Prize finalists unveiled on Monday.

Ms Penelope Curtis, director of Tate Britain which oversees the annual awards for contemporary art, said the works of the four finalists had "jumped out" in comparison to works by other artists seen by the jury.

The finalists, whose names were announced last May, are Duncan Campbell, who was born in Ireland and now lives and works in Glasgow, James Richards of Wales, Tris Vonna-Michell of England and Ciara Phillips, a Canadian living in Scotland.

Ms Curtis said there was a much greater emphasis this year on videos and projections the jury had seen in a number of places, including the Venice Biennale art show, than on gallery works, like painting or sculpture. Three of the four installations feature slide projections or videos that range in length from 10 minutes to almost an hour.

"Most of the works this year are audio-visual, it just happened," said Ms Sofia Karamani, the museum's co- curator of contemporary art. "It is very similar to how every one of us these days deals with images, how there is so much around, so much visual information and we take some of it to be our own and we appropriate and re-contextualise it. I would say it's a lot to do with the Internet, a lot to do with how we understand, collect and disseminate information."

The winner of the £100,000 (S$207,000) prize, which every year touches off a debate in the British media about whether the entries are art or not, will be announced in December. Past winners of the 30-year-old prize include Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley.

Two of the finalists' installations deal directly with how images are used in society. Richards filmed censored sexual images in Tokyo library books, showing how they had literally been sandpapered to make them unrecognisable.

Campbell has used a famous 1971 image of Irish Republican Army fighter Joe McCann, sometimes called "the Che Guevara of the IRA", to show how images can be turned into commodities of mass culture.

Ms Lizzie Carey-Thomas, curator of contemporary art at the museum, said Richards' video showed defaced images in books of works by the photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Wolfgang Tillmans, both of whom produced explicitly homosexual photographs, as well as the work of Man Ray, who photographed many female nudes.

"These books adhere to a still current law in Japan which forbids any institution from holding material that could be seen to elicit arousal in the viewer, so these pages of the art books have been physically and quite violently sandpapered out."

Campbell, meanwhile, has used the image of McCann, who was shot dead by British soldiers less than a year after the photograph was taken, to show how images become part of pop culture to the point where the picture of McCann and his M1 rifle was emblazoned on T-shirts and Christmas stockings.

"Campbell explores how a single image that reflects a powerful moment of opposition or resistance can come to embody a violent or ideological struggle and how the meaning of the struggle changes when the image becomes a commodity," the exhibition catalogue says.

Vonna-Michell's installation includes slides based on a story about his mother's childhood in post-war Germany "with an accompanying intimate and calm monologue that reflects the personal nature of the story", a press release said.

Phillips, the only finalist not to use videos or slides, has filled two rooms with more than 400 colourful, abstract- design handmade screenprints, pasted onto the gallery walls. But her work, too, includes images of people and huge, colourful renderings of capital letters.

 
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