Monday, October 30, 2006

Office imitating art?

The Turner Prize: is it art? Discuss.

Okay, it sounds like one of those questions for getting into Oxbridge (not quite 'how much of the world's water is contained in a cow?'), but every year, the contest-cum-exhibition held at Tate Britain manages to raise the hackles both of those who see art as a Turner hung on the wall - and those who see just as much 'art' in an unmade bed.

Now I've often thought that communication is more art than science and this year, Phil Collins (no, not him) has made that concept flesh in the form of Shady Lane Productions.

In short, Collins has built a fully functioning office in one of the Tate's galleries in London and has staffed it with researchers. Their job is to find subjects for Collins' next artwork - a video piece looking at the impact of reality TV on people who feel the medium has ruined their life.

The 'office' has windows opening into the gallery so the gawping public can check out what's going on inside and listen in as the researchers (all being paid for their time) go about their daily work of tracking down potential sdubjects for the forthcoming video installation. Joe and Jessica public can also interact with those inside the office by knocking at a hatch and having a chat - though largely the visitors have been a tad too timid to make that connection - maybe we just like looking at our art, rather than engaging it in dialogue.

But surely that's where the art comes in? After a few weeks, the office staff have settled into the roles, patterns and relationships we see in any office. The novelty's worn off, and, supposedly, they're no longer acting up for their audience. A functioning office - no matter where it's situated - is not art in itself - and the artifice here can only be in the dialogue with the viewing public that lifts the uber-reality into something beyond realism.

Undoubtedly this is a very clever installation. Is it art - or a massive piss take? I'm undecided, but impressed that Collins has not only come up with the concept, but has got away with it too.

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