Three rules govern Array Collective: Welcome, host and treat others in a supporting, friendly way; get out and campaign with your local activist groups; geg (have a) – a laugh. The Belfast-based Collective are one of five nominees for the 2021 Turner Prize creating work that focuses on community. In their protest and performance work textile banners and costumes make a regular appearance. But coordinating the eleven person collective? “There is a lot of trust to find the right space for people to express themselves, which is quite hard, especially in a group,” Alessia Cargnelli admits, “a lot of conversation, lots of meetings and chats and Google docs.”
Host of this year’s exhibition of prize nominees is the Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry. Array Collective have installed a pub fashioned from a composite of existing work. The ceiling is made from a canopy of pieced banners; costumes are draped on the hooks of a coat rack or precariously stuffed and propped. The aesthetic is irreverent and, at times, tongue-in-cheek humorous: placed on the bar top a plastic pineapple wears an eye mask embroidered with the words laissez-faire – arguably the antithesis of collective values.
Materially, the work presents a refreshing counterpoint to the exclusive cult of the slow. Grace McMurray explains, “As a collective we work best when we are creating action. Sometimes our best work is the work that we make just before a protest. The canopy that we made took us a month and a half of really intense work to create, but everything had been made beforehand. The knitted map took three months to make. Sometimes the best actions are the slow actions. Other times the best actions are really fast.”
While much press attention has been given to the fact that the 2021 list of nominees does not include any individual artists, less has been directed towards which practices have historically included collaboration. Suffragette banners of the early 20th century contributed to the campaign for women’s right to vote. And while elaborate carnival costumes may look extreme, the identity of the individual is often obscured in favour of the collective. Drawing on these traditions, Array Collective tackles contemporary topics such as challenging legislative discrimination of the queer community and the ultimately successful decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.
Moving the material of performance and protest inside a gallery can be tricky. Clodagh Lavelle agrees: “There is always the fear it is a bit staged.” Each member of the collective is also a practicing artist in their own right – albeit particularly time poor since they learnt of their Turner nomination. Recent months have been devoted to preparing the current exhibition. “We are all individually familiar with the white cube as practicing artists,” Lavelle offers. But exhibiting the Collective’s work posed a different challenge, “striking the balance of bringing the energy of the street protests and what we believe in and the causes, not just staging a protest in the gallery”.
Array Collective members: Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell, Jane Butler, Emma Campell, Alessia Cargnelli, Mitch Conlon, Clodagh Lavelle, Grace McMurray, Stephen Millar, Laura O’Connor and Thomas Wells. The Turner Prize winner will be announced on December 1. Nominees are exhibited at the Herbert Art Gallery through January 12, 2022.
Article published in Selvedge magazine.
Home page image courtesy of the Herbert Art Gallery, Conventry, England & Array Collective.