Britain’s Turner Prize, organised by the Tate, has been establishing artists’ reputations since it was first launched in 1985. Anish Kapoor, Gilbert and George, Wolfgang Tillmans and Grayson Perry have each received a cheque for 30 000 € on live television from Yoko Ono and Madonna, among others.
Over the years, the prize and the exhibition that goes with it, have been a turning point for the artists who have won it, marking a move from critical recognition to public fame. So, in 2015, when the prize was awarded to Assemble – a fluctuating collective of between 15 and 20 people, including qualified architects, designers, makers, activists and thinkers – it came as quite a surprise, not least to the members of Assemble, none of whom had previously thought of themselves as artists.
Assemble’s work had a new element – bringing new life to a cluster of run-down Victorian terraced houses in Liverpool’s disadvantaged Toxteth district, which formed the basis of their nomination for the art-related prize – even when considered within the context of the ever wider variety of practices that the Turner Prize has embraced over the years. And if architecture is understood as any kind of heroic form, making it is equally distant from Assemble’s approach to practice. Their studios certainly looked nothing like a conventional architectural studio. Until 2016, they were based within the sight of London’s Olympic stadium in a collection of workshop buildings scheduled for demolition. They shared the space with a range of artists, designers and other makers. It was full of tools and raw materials, allowing them to explore extruding, moulding, wood turning, routing, printing and digital cutting techniques. They are now in a similar complex in Bermondsey.