Artist Laure Prouvost's Turner win proves it can still surprise

Laure Prouvost's film clip about fictional grandfather joins works by Hirst and Eminto prove coveted prize is still unpredictable

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 December, 2013, 10:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 5:27am

French-born film installation artist Laure Prouvost has won Britain's prestigious Turner Prize for a short film clip that in part tells the story of a fictional grandfather digging a hole to Africa and disappearing down it.

An emotional and surprised Prouvost, who lives and works in London, told a crowd of hundreds at the awards ceremony: "I didn't expect this at all ... I was sure it was not me."

After presenting the award, the Irish actress Saoirse Ronan brought Prouvost's baby onto the stage to a chorus of "aahs" from the audience.

The ceremony was held in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, the first time the perennially controversial prize has been awarded outside England. Prouvost said she felt Britain was her "adopted" home because "this is the country that let me grow".

The Turner winner gets £25,000 (HK$318,000), with £5,000 for each of the three runners-up - Scottish conceptual artist David Shrigley, London-born painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Berlin-based English artist Tino Sehgal, who specialises in creating encounters between gallery visitors and people he enlists to talk to them.

Prouvost is known for films and installations with complex story lines and sometimes surreal interruptions, images and choppy editing. "I was not allowed to watch TV when I was little so I became obsessed with it. I'm catching up," she said.

Her winning work, Wantee, includes a 15-minute film purporting to be a tour of her late grandfather's sculpture studio. Instead, it shows how his outmoded works - some of them present in the room where the film is shown - have wound up being used to make furniture, or as a kitchen stand.

The grandfather, who it becomes clear is fictional, vanishes by disappearing down a tunnel he was digging to Africa. Prouvost said tongue-in-cheek that she would use the prize money to build a "big arts centre for grandfather".

The Turner Prize, first awarded in 1984 and named after the 19th-century English landscape and seascape painter J.M.W. Turner, often courts controversy and is regularly lampooned in Britain's tabloid press. It is open to British-based artists under 50.

Past entries have included Damien Hirst's Mother and Child Divided, consisting of a cow and calf pickled in formaldehyde and encased in stainless steel and glass; paintings that incorporated elephant dung; and a work by conceptual artist Tracey Emin consisting of her unmade and soiled bed. The prize, intended to celebrate new developments in contemporary art, is run by the Tate group of museums.

Critical reaction to Prouvost's win was a generally surprised one. "Laure Prouvost being given the award shows that the Turner Prize still has the capacity to be unpredictable," BBC arts editor Will Gompertz, wrote on the BBC website. "You could describe her installation as a cross between a Santa's grotto and an old junk shop, but that's not to say it doesn't have its own merits and provocations."

Londonderry, known as Derry to Irish Catholics, was the scene of the 1972 Bloody Sunday violence in which 13 unarmed protesters were killed in one of the most notorious incidents of Northern Ireland's sectarian violence, known as the Troubles, in which 3,500 people lost their lives. The barracks housed British soldiers.

Shona McCarthy, head of the company formed to run the year's cultural events, said they had been a runaway success in attracting visitors and healing sectarian wounds.

Additional reporting by The New York Times