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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 16:54 GMT
Humour outplays shock at Turner show

By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

This year's shortlisted Turner Prize artworks have gone on show amid controversy over a sexually explicit display by nominees the Chapman brothers.

Chapman brothers
The Chapmans' work is purposely provocative
Shocking, rude, outrageous - and that was just the scrum of journalists cramming the gallery for a peek at the piece deemed this year's most provocative entry.

Death, by Jake and Dinos Chapman, features what appears to be two inflatable plastic dolls on a lilo, engaged in a sex act.

It is explicit and is bound to cause offence to some visitors. The Tate is advising parents and teachers it may be unsuitable for under-16s.

But despite the furore it had caused even before it was unveiled, in the flesh it proved something of an anti-climax.

Unrealistic

HAVE YOUR SAY
To me these are just everyday objects thrown together and given a fancy name
Dan, England

Many visitors expecting to be morally indignant might even find themselves a little disappointed.

It may provoke some embarrassment, repulsion or even disgust, but the impact is dimmed because it is so clearly an unrealistic representation of the human form.

The use of these shapeless blow-up dolls places it in a humorous context that disarms any initial "shock" value (Think Derek Trotter in Only Fools and Horses.)

Death is meant as a comment on the brothers' philosophical belief that the sexual act mirrors the end of life.

Chapman brothers
Sex by the Chapmans is a darkly comic take on death
More interesting than any of this, perhaps, is its technical accomplishment. The piece turns out to be a heavy bronze cast painted so that it just happens to look exactly like plastic bodies and a plastic sunbed.

It is a similar story with the Chapmans' other most prominent installation; Sex, a gory depiction of maggot-riddled skeletons hanging from a tree, based on etchings of war victims by Goya.

This gothic scene of death and devastation is so over the top that it rapidly becomes absurd and darkly comic. And no more offensive than your average Iron Maiden album cover.

Nominated art from the Turner Prize exhibition 2003

More engaging than either piece is the Chapmans' third installation, Insult to Injury, a series of 80 reworked prints of Goya etchings that line the gallery walls.

Breaking taboo

In an act of homage and/or desecration that split the art world, the brothers painted skeletal clown and rabbit faces over the victims of Goya's The Disasters of War, breaking the ultimate artist taboo.

The piece had originally dealt with atrocities inflicted on Spanish peasants during the Napoleonic invasion. The Chapmans have retouched the dead with nightmarish face-masks in bright pink and vivid white.

The Chapmans are understandably grabbing this year's headlines because of the intensity of their work. But they face a strong contest from fellow nominees Willie Doherty, Anya Gallaccio and Grayson Perry.

Doherty, from Derry, uses photography and video to explore issues informed and inspired by Northern Ireland's religious and political divide.

Willie Doherty
Doherty's work is inspired by the politics of his hometown, Derry
His entry, Re-Run, consists of two large video screens showing a loop of a middle-aged man in a suit running in panic across a bridge at night.

Doherty uses close-ups, long shots and cuts to the emphasise the pace and claustrophobia of the situation, which is reinforced by a hazy red light and a silent soundtrack.

Depending on where the visitor stands in relation to the video screens, the man is either in pursuit or being chased.

Although filmed on the Craigavon Bridge in Derry - which divides the Catholic and Protestant communities - the film's nightmarish quality can be strongly felt outside of its immediate context.

Death and desire

Anya Gallaccio uses natural materials such as fruit and flowers in her work to comment on the big themes; life, death, desire.

By bringing organic produce into the sterile environment of the gallery and placing it alongside man-made items, she concentrates the mind on beauty and the contrast between the living and inanimate.

Anya Gallaccio
Gallaccio used 2,000 gerbera daisies in one piece
Her Turner works include Because Nothing Has Changed, bunches of real, ripe, red apples threaded with rope and slung across the boughs of a bronze tree cast from the original.

Like the apples, the 2,000 red gerbera daisies she has used in Preserve Beauty will fade and rot as the exhibition progresses.

Grayson Perry is a potter who makes ceramic vases using decorative glazes and adds slogans and pictures to create ambiguous storylines - often with harrowing or provocative imagery.

Using collage, text, drawings and photographs, he turns these beautiful and functional items into sad and witty mini-commentaries on subjects such as child abuse, gender identity and the class system.

We've Found The Body Of Your Child is a bleak and disturbing tableau of a baby lying helpless on the ground while its mother is apparently restrained by a gang.

Perry is not without humour, though, poking fun at the art world with a satire on fashionable establishments in his piece Lovely Consensus.

A transvestite, Perry also uses the clothing of his alter-ego, Claire, as an installation in its own right, named Coming Out Dress.

The Turner Prize runs until 18 January at Tate Britain.




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SEE ALSO:
'Shocking' Turner art on show
28 Oct 03  |  Entertainment


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