Why Martin Boyce Won The Turner Prize

So the excitement is over, and the Turner Prize 2011 has been awarded to Martin Boyce – we take a look at why…

Marin Boyce presented a selection of works including ‘Do Words Have Voices’ (2011) – a sculpture inspired by a library table designed by Jean Prouve for the Maison de l’Etudiant – and the elaborately-named ‘Beyond the Repetition of High Windows, Intersecting Flight Paths and Opinions (A Silent Storm is Painted in the Air)’, a new, hanging architectural intervention, drawn from the designs of Joel & Jean Martel.

Together, the sculptures create a deeply atmospheric ‘landscape’, interrogating the historical legacy of Modernist design. Here again is Boyce’s recurring motif of the Modernist garden designed by Joel & Jan Martel, and exhibited in the 1925 Exposition de Art Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. For Boyce, this garden represents ‘a perfect collapse of architecture and nature’, and his work often mimics this merger, bringing together urban and organic elements to create quasi-utopian ‘parks’. The floor of his Turner Prize show, for example, is scattered with angular paper leaves that reference natural forms and Constructivism in equal measure. But in this, Boyce’s work is a re-visiting one of the central precepts of Modernism – the manufacture of artificial ‘works’ (buildings, sculpture, novels etc) that simulate/harness the simplicity and smooth functioning of the organic world. Boyce goes just that one step further, articulating that syncretistic mission with a new blatancy through re-imaginings of the green spaces within urban environments – arguably the foremost location of the architectural/natural collision. In other words, while the Moderns hoped to

Perhaps the most satisfying thing about Boyce’s work is the atmosphere he creates – a sort of film noir meets public library, meets sitting on a park bench at dusk. This is achieved through the easy, almost suave, spacing of the various components and via subtle lighting, but it is also created through his tendency to work with the existing architecture of the exhibition space – the suspended ceiling piece, for instance, emanating from one of the Baltic’s concrete pillars like a leaf canopy from a tree-trunk, or the subtle-enough-to-miss Art Deco coverings crafted for the existing ventilation shafts.

Boyce’s Turner Prize ‘park’ – replete with park bin, as the tabloids so joyously reported –, in which he recreates an exterior space inside the gallery, is the latest in a long line such interventions. In 2002, for his exhibition at Tramway, he created an ominous vision of urban living entitled ‘Our Love is Like the Flowers, the Rain, the Sea and the Hours’. In it, he created an equally park-like environment, but this time at night, and the space littered with linked fencing, upturned bins, and neon trees. Fast-forward to the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009, and we see Boyce once again recreating an abandoned, leaf-scattered public garden – on this occasion a re-imagining of the 15th Century Palazzo Pisani.

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