Art is For Everyone: Jesse Darling

Artist Jesse Darling became the 39th person to be awarded the Turner Prize.

Wearing a pin that comically states, ‘Give Up Art’, artist Jesse Darling took to the stage to receive the 2023 Turner Prize. 

In winning the prize, Darling, an Oxford born artist, became the 39th person to be awarded the prestigious prize and the first transgender winner in Turner Prize history. Darling’s route into art came after a career as a chef and in the music industry, before going to art school in his 30s – proving that art is for anyone at any point in their lives.

Jesse Darling, Turner Prize 2023, Towner, Photo Courtesy of David Parry

Taking to the stage Darling emphasised the importance of art in schools, criticising Margaret Thatcher and her government for convincing “working people in Britain that studying, self-expression and what the broadsheet supplements describe as ‘culture’ is only for particular kinds of people in Britain from particular socio-economic backgrounds.” For Darling that could not be further from the truth: “don’t buy in, [art] is for everyone.”

Jesse Darling, Turner Prize 2023, Towner, Angus Mill Photography

And his sculptural works certainly embrace that belief. The use of commonplace objects such as net curtains, office files, welded barriers, and hazard tape, create a sense material familiarity. We all know what the objects are typically used for – obscuring views, creating order, and establishing boundaries. 

Jesse Darling, Turner Prize 2023, Towner, Photo Courtesy of David Parry

But these typical meanings are disrupted by Darling. Net curtains are suspended high in the air between concrete pillars, obscuring very little from view, with rings of barbed wire twirling above the dainty netted patterns. Office files are heaped haphazardly in the middle of the floor and in the corner of the gallery. Within them are concrete slabs, with no paperwork in sight. The legs of the welded barriers have grown and bent in an almost animalistic way, positioned in the space like it is crawling to escape on its hands and knees. The hazard tape is strung down from the ceiling and low down on the floor – doing a poor job of telling people to Keep Out. 

There is a clear feeling of levity in the scene Darling creates, despite it being one of chaos and disorder. Mutated crutches strown around the space, struggling to hold themselves up; a red tape tally counts up …or down revealing an unknown passage of time. Any attempts at softness – with frilly curtains and union jack bunting – are left in tatters. It is a humorous and bold sight to see.

Installation view of Jesse Darling, Turner Prize 2023, Towner, Angus Mill Photography

The Turner Prize jury praised Darling for his ability to manipulate materials “in ways that skilfully express the messy reality of life” and reveal “the world’s underlying fragility”.With his work, he conveys a “familiar yet delirious world” that “unsettles perceived notions of labour, class, Britishness and power.”

Jesse Darling, Turner Prize 2023, Towner, Photo Courtesy of David Parry

Alex Farquharson, Tate Britain director and chair of the jury, said that Darling’s work was a “state of a nation” address that had a “timeliness, dynamism and a boldness that was really grappling with the world. There’s a lot of humour in the work and you feel immersed in its world.

Alex Farquharson Tinie Tempah Joe Hill and Jesse Darling at Turner Prize 2023 Awards Ceremony. Photo by Victor Frankowski

Darling’s work criticises a society with barriers and boxes – a society without art. And as he stated in his speech ‘art comes back in schools in the S.T.E.A.M. Curriculum. Art is the A. between Engineering and Mathematics.” Unlike the previously held belief that art was not “economically productive”, Darling believes that “art as a skill set is something that a lot of the public can get behind”.

By Elise Nwokedi

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