Turner Prize 2004 artists: Langlands & Bell

Langlands & Bell have been shortlisted for The House of Osama bin Laden, an exhibition first shown at the Imperial War Museum, London. The production of the virtual model was a technical collaboration with V/Space LAB.

Ben Langlands was born in London in 1955 and Nikki Bell was also born in London in 1959. They studied fine arts together at Middlesex Polytechnic from 1977–80 and have been working together since 1978.

Langlands & Bell’s work

Langlands & Bell explore the web of relationships linking people and architecture, and the coded systems of circulation and exchange which surround us. Their work ranges from sculpture to new media projects and full-scale architecture. Both artists currently live and work in London.

Langlands & Bell have recently gained recognition for a diverse collection of work shown in The House of Osama Bin Laden, a project commissioned and shown at the Imperial War Museum. In October 2002, they visited Afghanistan for two intense weeks where they investigated the aftermath of war in the twenty-first century. The lack of military presence in the resulting works is conspicuous. The focus instead is on what happens once the international forces and the world’s media move on. Responding instinctively to the post-war environment, Langlands and Bell explore the ubiquitous nature of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating in Afghanistan. Their interactive animation investigates their dangerous expedition to the eerie isolated house occupied by Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s.

In an accompanying work, acronyms for NGOs are presented as eloquent digital sequences that multiply, transform and dissolve into each other. Formally and conceptually, this piece relates closely to an earlier work, Frozen Sky 1999, a digitally-controlled neon sculpture that randomly links abbreviations of airports from around the world. In both of these pieces, the strange language of acronyms becomes a new form of concrete poetry, as well as an important political commentary.

Creating work in response to living history is possibly the greatest challenge for an artist, and one of undeniable responsibility. Langlands & Bell work in an intelligent, but ultimately impartial, style that allows viewers the space to contemplate the complex themes explored. The poignant ambiguity of these works ultimately reflects the stark realities of war.