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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 October, 2004, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Light at end of the Turner show
By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Yinka Shonibare's The Swing
Yinka Shonibare subverts 18th Century art in The Swing
Criticised in the past for being frivolous and provocative, the shortlist for 2004's Turner Prize is dominated by artists who take a serious look at serious subjects.

The four shortlisted collections span post-Taliban Afghanistan, cultural identity and the blurring of fact and fiction.

With the exception of Langlands and Bell, whose video installation was removed for fear of prejudicing an Old Bailey trial, all artists incorporated film into their work.

This further angered anti-modern art group The Stuckists dressed as clowns outside Tate Britain, as they made their fifth annual protest at the absence of paintings from the shortlist.

VOTE RESULTS
Who should win the Turner Prize?
Kutlug Ataman
 7.49% 
Jeremy Deller
 18.73% 
Langlands & Bell
 9.01% 
Yinka Shonibare
 64.76% 
1121 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

"A lot of the stuff this year would be suitable for a Channel 4 documentary," said spokesman Charles Thomson.

"There is no need for this to be in the Tate gallery when television does exactly the same thing."

As you sit through one shortlisted video after another, it is hard not to feel that Mr Thomson has a point.

The exhibition's opening image is History of the World, a giant piece of graffiti by Jeremy Deller which connects a selection of words to demonstrate how 'acid house' is linked to 'brass bands'.

Worthy footage

While the inclusion of 'rave' and 'the KLF' may be amusing, the connections he makes are logical enough to include 'the Miner's Strike' and 'civic pride' without contradiction.

Deller further explores cultural heritage with Memory Bucket, a documentary on Texans living in Waco and Crawford, President Bush's home town.

Jeremy Deller's History of the World
Jeremy Deller's History of the World links acid house to brass bands
Deller's Social Parade video, which follows low-profile social groups in Spain's San Sebastian, and his Five Memorials photographic tribute to striking miners, immigrants and a cyclist killed by a drunk driver are equally worthy but uninvolving.

Istanbul artist Kutlug Ataman's piece is more direct, comprising of life-sized interviews projected onto six separate screens suspended from the ceiling.

Entitled 12, the subtitled footage was shot in southeastern Turkey as each interviewee describes how they lived and died in a previous incarnation.

Utterly convinced that they have been reincarnated, each person's story is compelling; yet the similarity of their stories, and the standard interview format, detracts from any questions these stories raise over the nature of fact and fiction.

Artist duo Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell's submission is equally focused, being entirely based upon a two-week stay in Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban.

Kutlug Ataman's 12
Kutlug Ataman's 12 features six stories of reincarnation
Its highlight is undoubtedly an interactive tour of Osama bin Laden's house, combining photographs with computer footage to enable you to steer your way around the deserted site.

The work raises our curiosity yet reveals little, succinctly conveying the idea that locations can rarely support the weight of significance we place upon them.

This should warn us against placing too great significance upon the absence of Langlands and Bell's trial footage, although the stark notice that replaces it suggests otherwise.

Idea stretched

The remainder of Langlands and Bell's collection is preoccupied with the acronyms used by aid agencies in Afghanistan - such as Unica, Echo and Hope - printing the words on flags, in neon and over photographs is a simple idea stretched too far.

The best is saved for last, as Yinka Shonibare provides a much-needed burst of colour and vitality to this year's Turner Prize exhibition.

Langlands & Bell's The House of Osama bin Laden
The House of Osama bin Laden is an interactive computer tour
Based upon an 18th Century painting by French artist Fragonard, The Swing is a dynamic sculpture of a woman kicking off a shoe in mid flight.

Her multicoloured batik costume, and the fact that she has no head, makes the image both familiar and deliciously subversive.

A similar approach is taken to his film Un Ballo in Maschera, an arresting work which re-enacts the 1792 assassination of Swedish king Gustav III through dance, its minimal soundtrack giving it an eerie vitality.

As Shonibare proves, documentary is not the only way to question history and confound expectation.

The Turner Prize runs until 23 December at Tate Britain.


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