The quality of the arts to write on astounds me this week: it’s all about the Turner Prize, the UK’s best-known contemporary art prize with local nominees Array collective, a film about Belfast by Kenneth Branagh and a troupe called Drag Syndrome who are coming to town. Yes, you heard right, a troupe of artists with Down's Syndrome who perform in drag.
The Turner prize opens in the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry on the 29 September and Belfast-based Array Collective have been nominated. This is a very rare occurrence that might happen once in a blue moon, if all the planets are aligned and luck is on your side and everyone has their fingers crossed. Oh and the sighting of a unicorn might come in handy. There is £40,000 at stake, £25,000 to the winner and £5,000 to the other shortlisted artists but much more valuable than the finance can be the exposure and opportunities that can come with it.
Array Collective members are Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell, Jane Butler, Emma Campbell, Alessia Cargnelli, Mitch Conlin, Clodagh Lavelle, Grace McMurray, Stephen Millar, Laura O‘Connor and Thomas Wells.
One Italian and a mix of others from the North and South of Ireland who have found the artistic and activist community locally as a support for their restless creative minds. Some of them are on precarious short-term contracts in differing creative roles — as if employers are scared their creativity might evaporate at any moment.
Many of them are key activists to various disenfranchised groups and are proud to say they do not parachute into parades, campaigns and lobby groups but are key members who bring their creativity with them. I hope they keep their playfulness in their work.
Array Collective are thrilled to announce our nomination for the 2021 #TurnerPrize which will take place at @The_Herbert as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations. We are absolutely delighted, but can not quite believe it! Thanks to our allies, supporters and partners in art https://t.co/LvaBNvJydj pic.twitter.com/v9Z8rSGtE0— Array (@array_studios) May 7, 2021
Non-hierarchical, they are quoted as having three house rules: 1.Welcome others in a friendly and supportive way. 2. Get out and campaign. 3. Have a ‘geg’. I’m led to believe all their support materials in the exhibition is in Gaeilge which might come as a surprise to some in the midlands.
Who are they up against? All the nominations are collectives this year my non-Belfast favourite is Project Art Works, a collective of neuro-diverse artists and makers based in Hastings. They explore art through collaborative practice with for and by neurominorities and disseminate their work via exhibitions, events, film and digital platforms. There is no equivalent working at the same level locally that I’m aware of.
Rydym yn hynod ddiolchgar i bawb sydd wedi rhannu, postio ac ymrwymo i gychwyn eu #ClwbLlyfrauPalesteina eu hunain! Yma yn Gentle/Radical, byddwn yn cychwyn ein clwb llyfrau mis Hydref, dan arweiniad ein cyfoedion Tony Hendrickson a Samson Hart pic.twitter.com/dKDAT0AkuE— Gentle/Radical (@gentle_hq) September 15, 2021
Another nominee is Gentle/Radical, a project based in Cardiff run by artists, community workers, performers, faith practitioners, writers and others, advocating for art as a tool for social change. Do we have this mix locally? No.
Or what about Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.), a London-based collective with works across art, sound and radical activism. Formed by and for QTIBPOC (Queer, Trans and intersex Black and people of Colour) B.O.S.S.S challenges the dominant norms of sound-system culture across the African diaspora with club nights, art installations and creative commissions.
Cooking Sections is a London-based duo examining the world through food. Using installation , performance and video. They have an ongoing installation-performance in the Isle of Skye which sees an underwater oyster table turn into a community dining space at low tide.
The Turner Prize is there to spotlight contemporary art and stimulate debate. If any of these descriptions get you to jump out of your chair and say, “That’s not art”, that’s all part of the debate and the reaction expected. Next week I’ll report from the Coventry exhibition.
KENNETH'S LOCKDOWN FILM FLASHBACK
Kenneth Branagh’s experience of lockdown brought his early memories back. The writing flowed and produced Belfast, a semi-autographical movie set for release on November 12.
We will at least be spared the horror of bad Belfast accents with Ciarán Hinds and Jamie Dornan starring. so hopefully it will not get into Belfast Film festivals bad Belfast accent film medley. I remember watching it one time outside the Sunflower Bar while the flag protests were raging. There was something surreal watching and listening to all these bad Belfast film accents as chaos raged in parts of the city. Many different narratives exist of this time and this will be one of them.
Finally, The Bounce Festival takes place this weekend, 1-3 October. For the first time it will have events in Derry, Belfast and online. Many events are free if you’re following my campaign for assisted studios, Alastair MacLennan’s talk on how he works with non-verbal artist Declan Byrne will be of interest.
As will Sinead O'Donnell who is performing at Havelock house on Friday evening. But it’s Drag Syndrome that has caught my eye in partnership with the Black Box; a drag troupe like no other which promises something fiercely fabulous.
University of Atypical aims to make the festival as accessible as possible and has free companion tickets for disabled people. Access dogs are welcome and a braille programme is available upon request. For these and other access services, email the University of Atypical.