DERRY, Northern Ireland: French-born, London-based film installation artist Laure Prouvost won Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize Monday for a video art piece that, in part, tells the story of a fictional grandfather digging a hole to Africa and disappearing down it.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” an emotional and surprised Prouvost told a crowd of hundreds at the awards ceremony. “I was sure it was not me.”
After presenting the award, the Oscar-nominated Irish actress Saoirse Ronan brought Prouvost’s baby onto the stage to a chorus of “aahs” from the audience.
The ceremony was held in the Irish town of Derry, the first time the prize has been awarded outside England. Prouvost told reporters she felt Britain was her “adopted” home because “this is the country that let me grow.”
The Turner winner gets $40,900 with $8,200 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 creates encounters between gallery visitors and people he enlists to talk to them.
Prouvost is known for films and installations with complex storylines and sometimes-surreal interruptions, images and choppy editing. “I was not allowed to watch TV when I was little,” she said, “so I became obsessed with it. I’m catching up.”
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, vanished by disappearing down a tunnel he was digging to Africa. A tongue-in -cheek Prouvost said she would use the prize money to build a “big arts center for grandfather.”
The Turner Prize, first awarded in 1984 and named after the 19th-century English landscape and seascape painter J.M.W. Turner, has often courted controversy and is regularly lampooned in Britain’s tabloid press.
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.
Intended to celebrate new developments in contemporary art, the prize is run by the Tate group of museums.
Tate Director Nicholas Serota said about 1,000 people saw the Derry exhibition daily since it opened in October, showing that contemporary art is a “relevant and vibrant part of life.”
The works of the four shortlisted artists were exhibited in a new gallery installed in a former military barracks on the banks of the River Foyle in Derry, which was the United Kingdom “City of Culture” for 2013.
Known as “Londonderry” to some, the town 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, the “Troubles,” in which 3,500 people lost their lives. The barracks housed British soldiers during those three decades.
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.
“The hallmark of the year has been participation, just the sheer body of people in the city getting off their arses and participating in something joyous,” she said. “I don’t think the people of Derry have any intention of turning back from this.”