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Wednesday, July 1, 1998 Published at 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK


From pickled sheep to elephant dung

Damien Hirst won the Turner Prize in 1995

As a medium for an artist, elephant dung rarely takes its place alongside pastels, watercolours and oils.

But with the publication of the shortlist for this year's Turner art prize, it is sure to become the subject of some debate in the art world.

A list of past winners of the award, which is designed to showcase contemporary art, reads like a roll call of the trendy British avant-garde. It includes Damien Hirst, famous for his passion for pickling animals, Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread and last year's winner Gillian Wearing.

[ image: A still from Gillian Wearing's 1997 Turner Prize winning video 60 Minutes Silence]
A still from Gillian Wearing's 1997 Turner Prize winning video 60 Minutes Silence
This year the four artists shortlisted from 500 nominees all live in London, reinforcing the image of the capital as a hotbed of talent. They include Chris Ofili, 29, whose specialiality is the aforementioned small piles of elephant dung. He also cuts images from pornographic magazines to include in his collages.

His portrayal of black women's sexuality has been criticised in the past as being blatant and offensive.

The Tate Gallery, venue for the competition, says that he has made it onto the shortlist because of the "inventiveness, exuberance, humour and technical richness of his painting".

[ image: Rachel Whiteread won the Turner Prize in 1993]
Rachel Whiteread won the Turner Prize in 1993
Marina Warner, a member of the prize jury, said the black artist was confronting racist attitudes and presenting black women in a way that would be impossible for a white artist. "He's interested in the sacred and profane," she said.

Some of Mr Ofili's work was on show at the landmark Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy last year.

'Dangerous and spiky'

Cathy de Monchaux, 32, has also been shortlisted for her 'sensuous' wall sculptures. Ms de Monchaux uses, among other materials, stuffed pink suede to suggest human genitalia and entrails.

Ms Warner said of the work: "It's possibly dangerous and spiky and even cruel or perverse. It's an exploration of desire and pleasure."

[ image: A work by Anish Kapoor who won in 1991]
A work by Anish Kapoor who won in 1991
The other two artists in the running include film-maker and photographer Sam Taylor-Wood and Tacita Dean, who also works with film and other media. Ms Dean, aged 32, has been nominated for her solo exhibition at London's Frith Street Gallery.

Ms Taylor-Wood, 31, tries to examine human relationships in her work. Her recent piece, Atlantic, featured three video monitors each focusing on different aspects of a couple's encounter in a restaurant.

The jury members who will decide the winner include Neil Tennant, half of the Pet Shop Boys, who is an avid collector of contemporary art, and Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery.

An exhibition of the four shortlisted artists' works will be on display at the Tate Gallery from October 28. The winner of the £20,000 prize will be announced at the beginning of December.

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