Toxteth Turner Prize joy for Assemble

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The Granby Four Streets project. Pic © JMU Journalism

The Granby Four Streets project in Cairns Street. Pic © JMU Journalism

A community regeneration scheme based in Liverpool has become the toast of the art world after Assemble’s Granby 4 Streets project was named the winner of the prestigious Turner Prize.

The architects’ collective, Assemble, found themselves shocked to even be nominated earlier this year, following their work renovating derelict homes in Toxteth in partnership with locals.

However, they confounded the critics who doubted the Granby 4 Streets’ claim to be classed as a work of art, as they were handed the award and its £25,000 prize money at a ceremony in Glasgow.

Named after celebrated English painter J.M.W Turner, the prize has previously attracted winners such as Damien Hirst’s Mother and Child – a cow and its calf preserved in formaldehyde – and this year’s recipients, London-based Assemble, admitted to being taken aback by the accolade.

Assemble member Joseph Halligan said as he received the award: “I think it’s safe to say this nomination was a surprise to all of us and the last six months have been a super-surreal experience.

“But it’s allowed us this amazing opportunity to start something – Granby Workshop – which we hope will live on for a very, very, very long time. We’re really, really grateful. Thank you.”

The Granby Four Streets project pictured after its Turner Prize nomination in summer 2015. Pic © JMU Journalism

The Granby Four Streets Project. Pic © JMU Journalism

Michael Simon, a communication and development worker for the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust initiative, told JMU Journalism how the project began “out of resident dissolution”.

He said that the local community was in the midst of a 10-year battle with the local council to fight the area from being demolished and “they just began beautifying the area in a kind of act of defiance and visibility”.

Mr Simon added: “Then Assemble got involved and it just snowballed from there. We worked with what was there, occupying the Victorian space and turning it into a really interesting, contemporary design.”

Reflecting on the Turner Prize success, Mr Simon joked: “People said B&Q will be winning next, but I think it’s fantastic.”

He told JMU Journalism: “Art is about humanity. Art’s not something that needs to hang in a rich person’s gallery. It’s for you and me, it’s to be lived in.”

Author and arts commentator, Muriel Gray, said on Channel 4 after the announcement: “I think it’s changed the nature of the Turner Prize because I don’t think it is modern art, I think it’s beautiful architecture – it’s a very peculiar year.”

Hard at work in Granby ©Ronnie Hughes

Hard at work in Granby. Pic © Ronnie Hughes

But the judges did not seem to agree, as they said of the Cairns Street-based scheme: “Assemble 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.

“The long-term collaboration between Granby 4 Streets and Assemble shows the importance of artistic practice being able to drive and shape urgent issues.”

Speaking to JMU Journalism amidst cheers and laughter shortly after the announcement, Mr Simon said: “I’m ecstatic. It was honestly just an explosion of emotion and of pure unadulterated joy. It felt like everything we’ve worked for was validated by the simple opening of an envelope.

“As someone who grew up in this area, I can’t explain what a proud moment this is. I just hope our success will encourage other communities to do the same and we’re not stopping here, we’ve got loads of plans on the horizon.

“Tonight we’ll party but tomorrow we’ll get back down to the hard work.”

About Elle Spencer, JMU Journalism