Weird and incomprehensible objects, machines of unknown purpose, mystifying slogans and unprovable propositions: it must be Turner prize time again. All of the above, and much more, are to be found in Mark Titchner's peculiar arrangements of the mechanical and the hand-chiseled, the computer-animated and the mechanically challenged.
Titchner quotes Nietzsche and the biblical exhortations of trade union banners; he dabbles in phenomenology and new age nonsense — and I haven't the faintest idea what he is on about, or why he does what he does, the way he does. Titchner's optical art discs, whose pattern is borrowed from Roger Dean's original design for the Vertigo record label, revolve on their stands with an eccentric, mesmerizing wobble. Watching them turn, one is reminded of early Bridget Riley, of Marcel Duchamp's rotoreliefs and of a trillion teenage acid trips. TV monitors flare with strobe lighting, and dates taken from a Liberty human rights audit flash back at me. There are throbbing, animated Rorschach blots, a clackety racket of machinery and a deeper sonorous hum, tuned to the wavelength of the human brain.
It's like that scene in The Ipcress File, when the bad guys try to drive Michael Caine around the bend. Without a doubt, Titchner is trying to brainwash me. Critical resistance is futile. He will win the Turner prize. He is the best. Give him the money. He is the Master. I will obey.
The best I can say about Titchner's work is that it looks bizarre. There's the hand-carved wooden tree-thing-cum-hat-stand surmounted by a wooden model of a crystal, wired up to a heavy-handed Victorian pulpit-like object nearby, which is in turn connected to a number of boxes reminiscent of car batteries, each of which has on it a little jar containing the sawdust collected when Titchner carved the phrases emblazoned on their sides. There must be those who take Titchner's willful obscurantism for creative thinking and artistic depth, but his appeal passes me by. It's all too clever by half, I keep thinking: too many complications, too much self-conscious eccentricity.
The aesthetic is grim. Is this the kind of ugliness that we later come to see as beauty? It's the sort of question Rebecca Warren's sculpture raises. Warren has been nominated partly on the basis of her contribution to the recent Tate Triennial. Soon, artists will be nominated for the Turner prize on the strength of their previous Turner prize nominations. This is a much better show for the sculptor. I must confess to being bored by her Robert Crumb-meets-Willem de Kooning-meets-Helmut Newton big-arsed and -breasted clay floozies. Why must she always make a joke out of her sculptures?
What I like best here are her great globbery inchoate clay lumps. They bulge and seethe with life — nascent ears, tongues, orifices, nipples. They remind me of some of Lucio Fontana's sculpture.
In her deliberately scrappy, wall-mounted vitrines, Warren is beginning to go somewhere new. Inevitably, one thinks of Beuys's vitrines, of Richard Tuttle and a number of other artists. In these stage-set like interiors, populated with furry pompoms, mounds of clay planted with sticks, scraps of woodshavings, twigs, twisted bits of glowing neon, and odds and ends as seemingly inconsequential as a cherry pit and a single human hair, Warren manages to build up a strange and tense portentousness.