As part of Andrea Büttner’s installation for this year’s Turner Prize exhibition at Ferens Art Gallery, Hull there is a piece of text from Simone Weil: The Most Dangerous Disease stating “Everybody knows that really intimate conversation is only possible between two or three. As soon as there are six or seven, collective language begins to dominate.” The text is part of a display borrowed from the Peace Library/Anti-War Museum of the Protestant Church of Berlin that would usually be loaned to schools and community centres, but here functions as an information-rich counterpoint to the abstracted motifs appearing elsewhere in Büttner’s work. Weil’s definition of intimacy, as something close and direct between company, but not a crowd, is apt to reflect on throughout the rest of the exhibition. Ferens Art Gallery does not boast the high ceilings and white expanses that typify purpose-built spaces for the presentation of contemporary art and the galleries can feel busy or even cramped, but instead of something unequivocally negative, this can be read as an opportunity to question the conventions of displaying contemporary art, both in terms of spaces and where they can be found.
Traditional mediums like painting and relief printing dominate, with traces of the artists' haptic presence throughout; her fingerprints, his tactile memories, her under-drawings, conveyed in gorgeous colours and textures that seduce despite disturbing and painful references. In Rosalind Nashashibi’s films, Vivian’s Garden, 2016, and Electrical Gaza, 2015, beautiful and slowly paced scenes flicker past, depicting vignettes where often one, two or three people will perform an intimate, everyday task against a backdrop or memory of violence. These meditations leave a hunger for resolution when easy answers aren't anywhere to be found. Hurvin Anderson’s large, striking paintings of barbershop interiors and amalgamated foliage similarly draw us into moments of closeness and of contemplation, exemplified by the figures in his barbershop paintings, who are shown with their backs to the viewer, necks exposed in their vulnerability.
Given how much has been made of the nominated artists' identities, if this can be realistically considered as anything more than a euphemism, it is notable that the aesthetics of protest are largely absent, except perhaps for Büttner’s hi-vis palette and urgent techniques. Political leanings and references to historical and more recent crimes against humanity do appear, but such content needn't be read as shocking or even controversial. Lubaina Himid’s installation features works from different points in her career that variously consider the individual lives of people who have been dismissed as a faceless mass. In Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service, 2007, salvaged secondhand crockery is painted over with ribald aristocrats, abolitionists and their servants, pitched at the moment of reformation but nodding towards the possibility of reparations. In contrast to these direct and graphic images, Büttner’s nearby prints are thick with ink, showing a series of simplified forms that reference supplication, inviting a consideration of shame and its uses. The work of Lubaina Himid, Rosalind Nashashibi and Hurvin Anderson that is shown here tends to depict individuals, although their defining features may be obscured, whereas Büttner’s enlarges universal gestures and types, and in this way the exhibition as a whole effectively evokes the tension between intimate and collective communication.