Shady Lane Productions

He wasn't awarded the prize but Phil Collins is definitely a winner, writes Rosie Blair

The work of artist Phil Collins needs no introduction. Not simply because his video piece, ‘The Return of The Real’, (originally commissioned for the 2005 Istanbul Biennial), has been nominated for the 2006 Turner Prize, but because Collins’ work is immediately accessible, beyond an art audience, to anybody with a thread of humanity and a functioning television. In his own words, ‘I make work that your granny could understand.’

This artist, whose work is foregrounded by a fascination with the spectacle of media exposure, can currently be found participating in a living artwork that takes the form of a real-life production office in the heart of Tate Britain.

Shady Lane Productions is a hive of activity, and in terms of conceptual art, it is quite a coup. It comprises of Collins himself and a dedicated team of researchers in full view of the public, occupied by the task of sourcing case studies for Collins’ latest video piece.

‘I’m talking to you now from an office in the middle of the Turner Prize,’ says Collins, ‘and I have eight people staring at me through a window, so when you talk about being exposed, I couldn’t be more so. I've been on a diet for the last six months in anticipation of this. Tried to lose the beer belly. Failed, but never mind...’

Collins recently said that he could never let himself participate in a reality TV show, despite perhaps secretly wanting to. The most PR-conscious of all the art world’s many competitions and awards, the Turner Prize is as close to reality television as art gets. How does he reconcile his desire with the fear of being exposed on this platform?

‘In terms of the Turner Prize, I thought about it for a long time before I decided whether to do it or not. Then I thought the most honest reason to do it would be to try and use it to have a bigger discussion about the stuff I’ve already been doing, about people who feel their lives have been ruined by being on talk shows, makeover shows and reality shows. So for the next three months I’m in at ‘the office’ everyday from 10-6pm, gathering stories.’

This is to become the sister project of ‘The Return of The Real’, specifically asking a much-ignored question which Collins feels is pertinent.

‘When somebody confesses something intimate and personal on television, or has an extreme emotional experience in front of a camera, the first thing I think is, "how is that person equipped to deal with it next day down the bakery or in the pub after the transmission?"

'There’s a part where you wonder how they got home, what their family said after they had been on television. Really basic. I wonder, what happens to these people?’

This statement reveals the keystone of Collins’ practice. He makes work about people’s lives, and on this level, every viewer can connect. We all have stories. The origins of this sensibility can be sourced from his down-to-earth northern English roots, and, he explains, his time spent in Northern Ireland.

Collins studied for his masters at the University of Ulster in Belfast from 1998-2000, and was one of the directors of the artist-run space Catalyst Arts. He was joint winner of Perspective 2000 at the Ormeau Baths Gallery and readily admits that these experiences were crucial to his development as an artist. 
‘I absolutely loved my time there [at York St]. I learned more there than anywhere else I’ve been at any other time in my life.

'Belfast was amazing in terms of the calibre of artists working there. People would help each other in ways that I don’t think they ever would in places like London. Belfast gives artists space to develop and it’s not competitive in the way other places are. I really like that. I like the attitude of people, and I think that in an environment like that you learn a certain … etiquette.

‘There are fantastic artists in Northern Ireland. The best and most interesting artists that I know live in Belfast and Derry. I think you go unrecognised and your artists have too few opportunities to show.

'I would encourage the general public of Northern Ireland to go out and see shows by Seamus Harahan, Susan MacWilliam, Dan Shipsides and Mary McIntyre. I would jump up and down with joy if I could go to see shows by these artists every day. There’s so much going on in Belfast.’

Like Big Brother, The Turner Prize is a gambler's game - one in which the favourite almost always wins. Although the public who visit the exhibition are free to pick their winner from the four exhibitions installed within Tate Britain, these are not the shows actually being judged for the prize. These are merely recreations of, or more accurately, ‘odes’ to the original shows nominated throughout the previous year and featuring work first shown elsewhere.

Shady Lane Productions will not help Collins win because it is a work conceived specifically for his current situation. However, it is the most effective use of space since Tracey Emin’s famous bed, and like the bed, it is a firm crowd-pleaser. Incidentally, despite thought to the contrary, Emin's bed didn't win the Turner Prize. It was film-maker Steve McQueen who had the honour that year.

A similar revision of history may prove pertinent in Collins' case. He’ll be remembered, pottering about behind a Perspex window, earnestly fielding phone calls from ex-Trisha guests, demystifying the artistic process and making art, right before our eyes.

If you have taken part in a reality show which you feel has subsequently impacted your life in a negative way, Phil Collins would like to hear from you. Call Shady Lane Productions on: 0207 887 4924/5.