Review | Charlotte Prodger and Forensic Architecture — The Turner Prize Exhibition at Tate Britain

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Charlotte Prodger, BRIDGIT, 2016. Single channel video with sound, 32 minutes. All images courtesy of the artist, Koppe Astner, Glasgow and Hollybush Gardens, London. Video still.

In The War of Desire and Technology at the Close of the Mechanical Age, Allucquére  Roseanne Stone discusses how our consciousness is altered by the way we’re immersed in technology. For Stone, technology recreates representations of time, space and being. She believed that virtual environments allow the terms self and body to mean different things, legitimising multiple forms of identity and subjectivities.

Stone’s idea of disembodied subjectivity lies at the heart of Charlotte Prodger’s film Bridgit, winner of this year’s Turner Prize on show at Tate Britain. For the first time in the Turner Prize exhibition’s history, all the artists have used film and digital imagery to explore social and political issues. Prodger’s voiceover in one of the closing scenes of her 32-minute film says:

“I’m on an Island reading things Sandy Stone wrote in 1994 about virtual systems theory, technology as prosthesis, and how a disembodied subjectivity messes with whereness.”

Technology as prosthesis foregrounds Prodger’s film, which is shot entirely on her smartphone. The footage moves between Prodger’s home in Glasgow to locations in the Scottish Highlands, following events from Prodger’s life as she attempts to free her queer identity from rigid societal rules and gender binaries. By placing together various seemingly disparate narratives from her life and from history, the artist challenges fixed notions of female bodiedness and static notions of identity.

The film pits narratives of her exclusion and misgendering against narratives of various liberating states—a cat in a sun-filled trance, dropping acid, a post-operative world of anaesthetics, and the matriarchal world of nature and Neolithic goddesses. Through the lens of her camera, which becomes an extension of her body, we see a world where identities appear, disappear and extend into the shifting boundaries of technology and nature.

Bridgit takes its title from the Neolithic deity of the same name. In one shot of standing stones on the Scottish Highlands, Prodger’s voice-over references Julian Cope and his odyssey through megalithic Britain in The Modern Antiquarian:

“’Bang in the middle of the Great Mother’s heart,’ he writes. ‘That’s how it feels to stand in the sacred Aberdeenshire landscape.’
I was oblivious. At the time I was working as a care assistant at Inchmarlo House, a residential care home for the elderly near Banchory.”

Cope was fascinated by matriarchal Goddess-orientated cosmology of the Neolithic period, and believed it had been destroyed by the patriarchal warring culture of the Bronze Age. Prodger adopts this matriarchal myth, locating her fluid identity in the shifting boundaries of myth and nature. The film’s voice-over describes the fluid identities and multiple names of Neolithic Goddesses:

“Not only were they known by different names in different places, but they often had at least three different phases: old, middle aged and young, which were all known by different names in one place.”

Queer identity and technology—both of which are labelled unnatural in society’s dominant narrative—are blurred together as the camera becomes an extension of the body against a backdrop of natural landscape. The film is an act of protest in a world that says the artist is unnatural and doesn’t belong.

The artist resurfaces out of her operation, out of a world of nothing, to discover multiple selves. Her narrative voice-over says:

“Margaret, Deborah, Emear, Helen. Each are points in a moving grid. […] The undifferentiated chaos of organs and bodies contained within the infinite time/space rhythm was going on long before I was there. It was going on when I wrote this and when I recorded it and now while you’re listening to it.”

The camera lens blurs the subject’s location in times and places, and the relation between I and you is no longer reducible to a self. The moving grid, which we later see expanding over a shot of standing stones in a field, transforms its objects into evolving sites of identity, which are, like the grid, constantly expanding in their meaning.

The exhibition is an open room with four entrances into the dark. Letting another swallow me up, I find myself watching The Long Duration of a Split Second by Forensic Architecture, an investigative agency based at London’s Goldsmiths University. The film uses footage from a police raid in a Bedouin village last year which demolished the village and killed two of its inhabitants. It was shot by a member of an activist documentary film collective who was at the scene.

Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Installation View. Photo by Mark Blower.

Close to the body, but an eye that is not theirs, the camera records the movement, chaos and violence around them, plunging the viewer into a battle zone of shouting, gunshots and a constantly sounding car horn. Forensic Architecture, like Prodger, use technology to recreate representations of time, space and being. But their objective is far from foregrounding subjectivity. The film uses video and images in a 3D model to discover spatial and temporal locations and build a linear timeline of events.  In The Long Duration of a Split Second the objective is to challenge the police’s story regarding the deaths of the villagers, and uncover a violation of human rights.

Spectacles of violence break out and are interrupted, again and again, while forensic detail establishes the objective factual evidence. By placing Prodger alongside Forensic Architecture, which wasn’t intended as art, the exhibition challenges the viewer to rethink the role and limits of technology in the arts, and asks whether film can foreground subjectivity, objectivity or only something in between.

The Turner Prize exhibition, also including films by Naeem Mohaiemen and Willis Thompson, is on at Tate Britain, London, until 6 January 2019. For more information and tickets, visit Tate Britain.

Words by Molly Moss.


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