An Irish Pub Lands an Artist-Activist Collective the Turner Prize

Array Collective receives the coveted Turner Prize for recreating an illicit Irish pub laden with social and political commentary.

Photography by Doug Peters

Array Collective, an 11-artist group based in Belfast, received the U.K.’s most coveted art accolade, the Turner Prize, in a ceremony held in Coventry under the bombed-out buttresses of the gothic cathedral that shares the city’s name. The winning piece, called The Druithaib’s Ball, will be on display at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum through January 12. 

Conceived as a two-room installation, The Druithaib’s Ball emulates síbíns—underground bars operating within Northern Ireland since the 1700s. To access the piece, viewers first enter a sparsely lit room, where flagpoles arranged circularly act as sentinels guarding the next room. Beyond, what seems like a fully functional if slightly shabby-chic watering hole is actually a facsimile; no Guinness is on tap. Instead, banners and other ephemera with political protest slogans adorn the ceiling and walls. There’s even a television, but instead of sports on the screen, footage from the Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital Archive plays in a loop. 

Photography by David Levine

It’s a year of firsts for the Turner Prize, which has never been awarded to a work originating from Northern Ireland. Additionally, each nominee—B.O.S.S., Cooking Sections, Project Art Works, and Gentle/Radical—identifies as an artist collective. As the grind prize winner, Array Collective will receive $33,000, which they plan to spend on finding studio space.

The move to nominate only collectives rather than individuals drew some criticism. What’s more, the overt political activism embedded within Array Collective’s winning piece offended those who desired a return to formalist art. Critics and former winners both chimed in, calling Array Collective’s work “terrible” and the Turner Prize subservient to a “very defined and performative sense of social responsibility.” According to the judges, however, Array Collective’s “hopeful and dynamic artwork addresses urgent social and political issues affecting Northern Ireland with humour, seriousness and beauty… [The Druithaib’s Ball] translates their activism and values into the gallery environment, creating a welcoming, immersive, and surprising exhibition.”

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