The Turner Prize is unfailingly controversial. Each year the finalists in the Tate Gallery's leading contemporary art prize are attacked for setting out to shock their audience, rather than to make art. One year Chris Ofili's elephant dung was in the doghouse; the next, Tracey Emin's dirty, unmade bed upset visitors. Two years later conventional art lovers were affronted by Martin Creed's simple and ultimately award-winning room featuring only a light switch. \nBut the controversy now breaking around one of the nominated works of art this year cannot be dismissed as a clever gimmick. At the last minute, the centerpiece of a challenging display put together by Turner finalists Langlands and Bell has been withdrawn from the competition because it has fallen foul of the law. \nThe unexpected decision, taken by the artists on the advice of the Tate Gallery lawyers, will leave a big hole in the prestigious annual exhibition of the shortlisted artists, which was due to open its doors to the public tomorrow. \nThe Tate became aware of the legal problem at the end of last week, just as the show was being put up. With regret the artists were told, in an unprecedented development, that the artwork would have to be withdrawn immediately if the gallery was to avoid the possibility of prosecution. \nThe legal issue revolves around a 12-minute film made by the artistic duo of Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell while they were in Kabul in 2002. The artists had been commissioned to go to Afghanistan by the Imperial War Museum to create art that responded to the situation in the country following the toppling of the Taliban regime. \nThe film they shot there depicted the trial of a man in the supreme court of the Afghan capital. \n"We just went into the court and sat down in one of the rows with our video camera," Ben Langlands said. \nThe resulting trial footage was to have dominated their exhibit in the Tate and to have provided the context for their other pieces, including a photographic work which uses the acronyms, icons and symbols of all the different aid agencies working in Afghanistan at the time and a virtual reality tour of the home of Osama bin Laden. \nNow, due to the start of the Old Bailey trial of another man, Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, who is charged with "conspiracy to torture" and "conspiracy to take hostages," the Langlands and Bell film has been judged potentially prejudicial to the new proceedings. \n"We can't pretend we didn't make this film. The film exists," Nikki Bell said. "But for the sake of the witnesses we will go along with the advice we have been given." \nAt the start of the Zardad trial the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, told the court that the defendant, who has lived in south London for several years and worked, among other things, as a pizza chef, is accused of overseeing the torture, imprisonment and murder of innocent people. \nHis case represents a legal landmark in its own right since it is the first time a British criminal court has tried alleged crimes which were committed abroad, especially as neither the defendant nor the alleged victims were British. \nLord Goldsmith explained to the court that "there are some crimes which are so heinous, such an affront to justice, that they can be tried in any country." \nZardad denies the charges against him and is defended by Cherie Booth's legal chambers, Matrix Law. \nThe two artists affected by the decision are now planning to ask the Tate if they can project a legal notice to explain the missing film. The notice would fill the gallery wall on which their film was originally to have been shown. Langlands and Bell, who have been working together for a decade, are best known for architectural work and pieces using models. \nThe extraordinary withdrawal of the film is, in fact, strangely in keeping with the mood of the Turner Prize show that opens to the public this week. Three of the nominated artists, Jeremy Deller, Yinka Shonibare and Langlands and Bell, have all chosen work with a serious theme and a relevance to world politics. \nJeremy Deller has made a film about US President George W. Bush and Texas, while Yinka Shonibare has recreated the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden in 1792 in order to draw parallels with modern political fears. \nAnd while Kutlug Ataman, the final shortlisted artist, has not created a work which deals directly with politics, he has revealed that he was the victim of torture during his youth in Turkey. As a young man in 1980 he filmed a protest march and was arrested by the police and held in captivity for 38 days, on 28 of which he says he was tortured. \nNo one would have predicted it, but it seems the Turner Prize is unremittingly grown-up this year. For once it will be hard for critics to dismiss it as a mere sideshow.
Damien Hirst: the most notorious Turner Prize row was kicked off in 1995 by the Sun, which raged at Hirst for making art out of dead animals preserved in formaldehyde.
Chris Ofili: in 1998 this stylish artist was the butt of jokes when he used elephant dung on his decorative canvases.
Martin Creed: Three years ago Creed was derided for making art out of a light in a room that simply went on and off.
Grayson Perry: Last year the blue-frocked transvestite won with his disturbing pottery, which deals with child abuse and terrorism.
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