At a ceremony in Glasgow on Monday, the 18-member, London-based architecture and design collective Assemble was awarded the Turner Prize, for Granby Four Streets, its collaborative, community-engaged renovations of Victorian-era homes in Liverpool. The annual award is Britain’s most prestigious honor for contemporary artists under 50. This is the only the second time the Turner Prize has been awarded to more than one artist (Gilbert & George won in 1986).
The winner receives a cash prize of £25,000 ($38,000). In a statement, the prize jury praised Assemble’s social justice focus: “They draw on long traditions of artistic and collective initiatives that experiment in art, design and architecture. In doing so they offer alternative models to how societies can work.”
Assemble doesn’t think of itself as a group of artists, per se. Instead, the collective “[works] across the fields of art, architecture and design. Assemble’s working practice seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative, seeking to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in the on-going realization of the work.”
Granby Four Streets builds on the neighborhood’s grassroots, but well established preservation work, recruiting and training young people to renovate the homes for resale. Preservation and investment saves the neglected or run-down rowhouses from demolition. At homegoods store Tramway, Assemble sells handmade household items made by Liverpool residents at the Granby Workshop, a parallel project.
Some in the media questioned whether an art prize could rightfully go to a group of builders who reject the term artist. Others praised the jury’s choice as a recognition of the broad definition of art, and the importance of socially responsive projects. Assemble explains their process and their ambivalence around the term “artist” in this video.
The three other nominees were Nicole Wermer’s “Infrastruktur,” Janice Kerbel’s “DOUG,” and Bonnie Camplin’s “The Military Industrial Complex.” Last year, Duncan Campbell won for “It for Others,” a four episode video series that explores the value of art through Marxism, anthropomorphic ketchup dispensers, and the IRA.