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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - One artist asks 'when is a painting not a painting?', while another fills a gallery room with a recording of sorrowful 16th century Scottish laments.
The annual Turner Prize regularly has the public and pundits pondering "what is art?," and the works competing for it this year, unveiled at London's Tate Britain gallery on Monday, suggested that 2010 would be no exception.
Dexter Dalwood, Angela de la Cruz, Susan Philipsz and The Otolith Group are the four artists in the running for the coveted 25,000 pound ($39,590) award, to be announced on December 6.
Previous winners of the Turner Prize, which has thrived on controversy over the years, include Grayson Perry, a cross-dressing potter, and Martin Creed, whose installation in 2001 featured lights going on and off in an empty room.
"They are not looking for controversy," said exhibition curator Katharine Stout, referring to the panel of judges who narrowed the list of contemporary artists based in Britain and under 50 years of age to a shortlist of four.
"What we have is a quite distinctive but incredibly strong selection," she told Reuters.
The artist who questions the definition of painting is 45-year-old de la Cruz, who takes her work into three dimensions as her brightly covered canvases are twisted and contorted by the broken wooden frames to which they are attached.
Glasgow-born Philipsz, 44, is the first artist working primarily in sound to be shortlisted for the Turner, and for her installation called "Lowlands" she sings old Scottish laments through a three-channel sound system.
"There is a difference between hearing about it and coming to the gallery to hear it," Stout said of the work, describing it as "melancholic and poignant."
The Otolith Group, comprising artists Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar, has made a 26-minute film partially inspired by a screenplay by Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray called "The Alien," which was never made.
The film combines old black-and-white footage with new images, and is consistent with the collective's preoccupation with reviving forgotten works of the past.
"They are fascinated by moments in film and television history that have been lost or buried in time, and are interested in re-introducing them," said Stout.
Fellow nominee Dalwood is now 50 but was 49 years old when shortlisted. His room features paintings tackling well known moments from recent history, the most talked about of which is likely to be "Death of David Kelly," dated 2009.
The painting of a tree against a moonlit sky is his representation of the suicide of the British government weapons expert, found dead in 2003 after being named as the source of a BBC report that the government had exaggerated the case for going to war in Iraq.
The opening of the Turner Prize exhibition, which runs from Tuesday to January 3, 2011, was briefly overshadowed by a boycott by several news organizations, including Reuters, which objected to some of the conditions contained in the Tate's consent form.
Photographers were eventually allowed into the show without having to sign the form, and a Tate spokeswoman said the document would be reviewed.
Editing by Mark Trevelyan