The Turner Prize

‘Another Slant on the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.’

I wrote this drama in 2008 at a time leading up to Artist’s awards for the Turner Prize in London. I was horrified that so much attention and funding was showered upon flimsy works of modern art, at a time when promises to help relieve the world’s poor seemed to be evaporating. I used Art critic’s comments and actual reviews in newspapers about the Art exhibits to provide the dialogue for this drama.

Could this free drama help your event to come to life?

Setting the scene: An Art Gallery.

Find a picture, slide or overhead such as the one below, i.e. Cathy Wilkes ‘Give You All My Money 2008’ ( a piece which consists of two supermarket check-out units on which are scattered unwashed bowls and cups, and around which are placed mannequins (one sitting on a lavatory bowl, the other with a cage on its head) and objects including an oven, a ladder , some tiles and some charred sticks.) and display it at the centre of your stage. Display also a 3D pile of bricks with donkey jacket at one side of the picture and at the other side, a large photo of a child in great need, through poverty. (See the last part of this drama, for the graffiti which has been scrawled on the photo)

Enter chief Art critic and wealthy visitor. Both are deep in conversation on the subject of the entries for this year’s controversial Turner Prize 2008.)

Slide one:

Visitor: Oh Yes! Just look at this!

Critic: I thought this would appeal to you! How does it make you feel?

Visitor: It gives me the impression of…of….? (pauses not knowing what to say)

Critic: …a disconcerting theatrical set?

Visitor: Quite so! (looks relieved)

Critic: Wilkes leaves the interpretation of the piece to each individual, but it begs questions too.

Visitor: It does?

Critic: Yes. Who ARE the naked mannequins at the checkout?

Were they the ones who ate from all of the bowls?

Did they lick out the bowl of Bon Maman jam?

Visitor: Mmmmmm! (thoughtfully)

Critic: In fact Wilkes plays with surrealistic juxtapositions and creates a WEB of enigma that grows more confusing and complicated the longer you look!

Visitor: Mmmm! I see it now. I understand; I do feel caught up in that web!

{They move on to gaze at a three dimensional structure.( not a slide) It consists of a small pile of bricks and a fluorescent donkey jacket, left in a heap.}

Critic: This must be a late entry, I haven’t viewed this before, and it’s not actually down in the catalogue. (He searches for it) It must be here somewhere!

Visitor: And what should we take from this one?

Critic: Let me see, (he walks around it.)

Well this installation begs us to consider what is real and what is not. One is invited to place post-modernism on a turntable, so to speak, spinning our culture like some mad DJ, mixing and melding information…to evoke the feverish creativity of our cross-bred contemporary minds? (He looks to her , for her opinion)

Visitor: (looks perplexed) …And…and… perhaps the sculptor is… helping us… to move away from those elitest artists who are unable to relate to …everyday experiences? (invites approval of her opinions)

Critic: I couldn’t agree with you more! (she is relieved) He is bringing in areas of contemporary cultural interest, that would have been quite outside the spectrum of interests of the more traditional artists.

(enter builder who picks up the safety jacket which he had left lying on the stand during his lunch-hour. He takes his bricks and walks out whistling. The critic and visitor look on suitably embarrassed and without saying a word move on as if nothing has happened.)

(Slide 2: graffiti slide)

Critic: Now this IS interesting. An actual installation lifted up, out of the very bowels of the earth, the London Underground that is…Here we have humankind reclaiming his need for space, demanding the right to express himself and his own values for today. He uses primitive tools, in the night, to express his own persona, his own doctrine and creed.

Visitor: Now at one time this kind of Art was frowned upon, was it not, and people arrested for vandalism?

Critic: Exactly madam, but between you and me this particular piece is tipped to win the grand prize.

Visitor: I wouldn’t be at all surprised. How much is it worth? (critic whispers the answer) Really?… That much?

Critic: It’s a real investment for the future!

(Slide three: shows a small African child, who gazes straight at the viewer as if through a window. His face is tear stained with hunger and pain. Words written at the end of this drama must be scrawled across it)

Visitor: And who is that poor child looking at us through the window?

Critic: He’s not real! This particular installation gives us the distinct impression that a real person is peering in through a window in time; but it’s only a print in monochrome to encourage empathy and evoke pathos. It gives us a fresh realisation of who we are in the world, nothing more. But it does capture a sense of fragile emptiness, does it not?… a sense of another world and of spatial awareness.

Visitor: I should have realised it was only a photograph. Silly me!

I should have noticed those words written there beside his mouth.

Critic: Where? There were no words there yesterday!

Oh no! It’s been defaced! Call the curator at once someone!

Visitor: (horrified) Who would have done such a thing?

Critic: Obviously a wastrel with no sense of values or common sense. Really, young people today, no sense of what’s decent or right!

Visitor: What does it say?

Critic: It says:

‘This child is reality you fools! Stand up against poverty!

‘Why spend money on what is not bread.

Your wages on what fails to satisfy?’ (Isaiah 55. 2)’

How very dare they?

(Exit Art critic, followed by visitor)