Turner Prize winning artist backs silenced peace campaigner

By staff writers
4 Dec 2007

To loud cheers at Tate Liverpool gallery, 48-year-old artist Mark Wallinger last night won the 2007 Turner Prize, the world's premier art award, and dedicated his win to campaigner Brian Haw, whose anti-Iraq war protest shaped his work 'State Britain'.

Technically, Wallinger - who is also well known for his moving 'Ecce Homo' statue of a vulnerable Christ - won the prize, 12 years after his first nomination, when he lost out to Damien Hirst, for his film 'Sleeper'. But he acknowledged that the victory was really a verdict on 'State Britain', an exact replica of Mr Haw's Parliament Square protest installation.

The government introduced draconian anti-protest legislation effecting demonstrations within a mile of Parliament in order to remove the Christian peace campaigner. It lost a court case over retroactive application, but Mr Haw was finally removed by the police under the auspices of health and safety guidelines.

The protest was largely dismantled on 23 May 2006, following the passing of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act that created an exclusion zone which bisects Tate Britain. Part of Mark Wallinger's installation fell within its border.

Civil rights activists have denounced the action taken against Mr Haw as disgraceful and a denial of freedom of expression. This is a view which artist Wallinger shares, and in receiving the Turner Prize he called out "bring the troops home".

The work he won with, 'Sleeper', is 154 minutes of footage of the artist wandering around a deserted German gallery disguised as a bear, but recognisable by his very particular gait. It has bemused, amused and surprised visitors to the Turner show, and is seen as an ironic comment on the relationship between display and substance in public life.

'State Britain' was on show between January and September 2007 at Tate Britain's Duveen Galleries in London. In it, Wallinger remade Brian Haw's famous peace camp, precise in every detail - from the tea-making area to the large number of flags, banners, photos and posters assembled by the protestor and his supporters.

Though his campaign involve people of all faiths and none, Mr Haw is a Christian, and one of the placards bore the legend 'Christ is Risen' as a symbol of divine life-giving in the face of death.

Wallinger's work is a simulacrum. It took 14 people six months to source the materials, carefully weather and age them, and assemble them in the artist's London studio. The aim was complete authenticity.

The installation in cost some £90,000 to make, and the commission paid £3,000. The £25,000 Turner Prize money will therefore help him recoup a proportion of the cost of making the work, currently in storage, but slated for another display in 2008.

Other noted works by Mark Wallinger include include Angel, in which he ascended and descended the escalator at Angel Underground station, London, reciting parts of the Bible, backwards.

The 'Ecce Homo' statue of Jesus was denounced by some conservative Christians as disrespectful, because it was humble rather than triumphalist. Other people found it powerful and moving when it appeared briefly on a plinth in Trafalgar Square, contrasting with symbols of empire and military victory.

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