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The favourite to scoop the art industry’s most controversial accolade this year is a pile of shit.

More specifically, Paul Noble’s Turner Prize entry includes black and white sculptures of turds copulating, on display in the same room as his incredibly intricate drawings – which feature human excrement having sex.

The Turner Prize is no stranger to provoking reaction; in fact, it thrives on discussion, usually fuelled by purists outraged at the bizarre and unworthy pieces nominated for the £25,000 prize fund.

But this year, as well as the critics’ cries of, “Is this art?”, the exhibition, which opened last week, has also prompted accusations of dumbing down, criticism that the usual shock tactics have become tired, predictable.

While, in comparison, others have said it’s the strongest range of finalists for years.

Controversy has followed the Turner Prize since its launch in 1984 (see box) – from Damien Hirst pickling a mother cow and her calf for In Mother And Child Divided in 1995, to Tracey Emin exhibiting My Bed, unmade, along with dirty sheets, fags and a bottle of vodka in 1999.

Despite the poo, bookies William Hill has selected Noble as the favourite to win the 2012 prize with 5/4 odds.

The artist began his elaborate drawing project in 1996, creating fictional city Nobson Newtown, which features drawings of a place where the words spell out the town.

“There is no story or time in Nobson Newtown,” the 48-year-old Londoner says. “I consider it to be a play without acts or actors.”

As well as Noble, who is the only artist in the traditional sense to be nominated, three others have made the shortlist, their work on display at Tate Britain until January, with a winner being announced on December 3.

Spartacus Chetwynd has also raised eyebrows.

The kooky 39-year-old from London is the only live performer to ever make the final of the Turner Prize.

She said her carnival-like performances, which include inviting members of the audience to lie down while an oracle puppet whispers predictions, such as “84 per cent of people have more sense than you”, and “beware of Dave”, were meant to celebrate political ineptitude.

Chetwynd, who lives in a nudist colony and who changed her name in honour of a Roman gladiator, wore facial hair to the opening of the exhibition, saying: “I haven’t had time to find a dress so I thought if I put a beard on with an old dress it will be a scintillating combination.”

In the next room is 45-year-old Elizabeth Price’s trilogy of video installations. Each one has taken the Londoner a year to make.

The highlight is The Woolworths Choir Of 1979, in which Price expertly merges fiction with fact – a fire at a Woolworths store in 1979 in which 10 people died – creating “an imagined institutional structure where we are both consumers and consumed”.

Asking the most from his audience is Luke Fowler, with a 93-minute video featuring Scottish psychiatrist RD Lang as his subject. All Divided Selves intersperses archive material with glimpses of footage that he’s shot himself in a compelling edit.

Of his videos, Fowler, 34, who hails from Glasgow, said: “[They are made for] people who are prepared to enter into a deeper relationship with the film and its subjects.”



A pile of shit? This year's Turner Prize really is...
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