A group of young architects and designers has been awarded this year’s Turner Prize, one of the most prestigious art awards in the United Kingdom. The London-based group, called Assemble, was chosen as the recipient because of their work to restore condemned Victorian terraces in Granby Four Streets, a rundown part of Liverpool.
With the help of residents, Assemble created an inexpensive model to make restorations to the terraces. They used found materials to fix things like brick and rubble or handles made from sawdust. So far, ten properties have been refurbished. Assemble is assembled–if you will–of a group of people all under 30 years old, and they were presented with a check for 25,000 pounds at a train station remodeled into an exhibition space in Glasgow, Scotland.
“I think it’s safe to say this nomination was a surprise to all of us,” said Joseph Halligan, a member of the group.
The Turner Prize often provokes discussion about what art is, what its functions are, how it works. The prize is awarded to outstanding works of art, though the shortlist is sometimes full of interesting choices, such as Tracy Emin’s unmade bed piece. The people of Assemble are not necessarily artists–at least they don’t describe themselves that way, which makes them a curious choice for the award’s recipients. But Assemble is okay with that.
“I don’t think we worry too much about whether we’re artists or not,” said Louis Schulz, also a member of Assemble. “For us it’s all about the projects and in this case it’s all about the Granby Workshop.”
The workshop Schulz refers to is a space where local residents learn to create furnishings to sell to the public, a trade many of them can use. All of the funds garnered from the sales are put back into the refurbishment project.
Some people aren’t happy that a group of non-artists were chosen for the most coveted art prize in the UK, and some, like Muriel Gray, chair of the Glasgow School of Art, feel that the selection has “changed the nature of the prize.” But the nature of art is that it’s part of life–and life is often lived in buildings that need some love.