In 2019, four then-shortlisted artists sent a letter to the Turner Prize jury asking not to select a single winner for the future nominations. The jury considered the artists’ wish; however, in 2020, the pandemic brought well-known inconveniences that resulted in travel bans and shutdowns of cultural and artistic venues and events. Even though the jury could not move around the UK to find artists eligible for the prize, many creators continued their work in the form of local projects, installations, and activism. So, the 2021 award season is dedicated to praising artists and activists that advocate for social change through art and solid community bonding. For the first time in the history of the Turner Prize, the shortlist consists of the artist collectives only.
Array Collective is a group of Belfast-based individual artists who joined to draw attention to sociopolitical matters in Northern Ireland. The collective uses performances, protests, exhibitions, and events to speak about the decriminalisation of abortions in Northern Ireland, legislative discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community, gentrification, and mental health. The Turner Prize jury highlighted the collective’s installation at Jerwood Collaborate!, where they incorporated folklore and myths of their home country and connected them with the current events. Also, the Array Collective’s work has been acclaimed for its humorous manner in tackling serious and important issues.
Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.) is a London-based artist collective formed by and for QTIBPOC (Queer, Trans, and Intersex Black and People of Colour). The group works across art, sound, and radical activism challenging the norms of sound system culture through art installations, technical workshops, and creative commissions. The Turner Prize jury admired the collective’s online 24-hour fundraising rave. Even though B.O.S.S. recognised the nomination, they have started a difficult discussion in their public statement with the award’s organisers, Tate, about the recent staff redundancy as well as sexual abuse from an art dealer towards a black woman artist.
Cooking Sections is an artist duo that explores the food systems which organise the world. Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe are concerned with the transformation of landscapes. Two artists use site-responsive installations, video, and performance as tools to merge art, agriculture, architecture, and geopolitics. The Turner Prize jury recognised Cooking Sections for the CLIMAVORE project, which focuses on the correlation between people’s diet and climate change. The aim is to appeal to people’s attention that the alterations made to farmed salmon to get the ‘salmon pink’ colour are neither natural nor healthy. For that, the duo created a sound, light, and sculpture installation at Tate Britain as well as an installation-performance in the Isle of Skye. Also, the art collective collaborated with Tate asking them to remove the fish from the menu and substitute it for the CLIMAVORE dish.
Gentle/Radical is a collective that has gathered people of various professions and vocations. They are artists and performers, writers, community workers, faith practitioners, and others who state that art can be used as a means for social change. The collective organises real and virtual spaces for Welsh communities so that they can engage in cultural projects and events. The Turner Prize jury praised Gentle/Radical for persistent work with Riverside, the collective’s home community. Among the ongoing events are Doorstep Revolution, which helps neighbours keep in touch during lockdowns, or the Film Club, a pop-up cinema that screens independent films while attracting diverse communities to discuss urgent matters.
Project Art Works is a collective of neurodiverse artists and activists rooted in Hastings. The collective works to increase the representation and deepen the visibility of neurodiverse artists. Alongside them, the collective comprises caregivers who help to navigate through health and social care systems. Together in Project Art Works, they create exhibitions, films, co-commissions, digital platforms, and publications. The Turner Prize jury commended the artist collective’s initiative during the pandemic to display the works online and in a residency at Hastings Contemporary, leaving the open windows to passers-by.
The art collectives will display their works at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry from 29 September 2021 – 12 January 2022 as part of the UK City of Culture 2021 celebration. The winner will be announced on 1 December 2021 at Coventry Cathedral and broadcast on the BBC.