Charlotte Prodger, a Glasgow-based artist who makes films using her iPhone, has won this year's Turner Prize, British art's biggest accolade. Prodger (44) won the prize Tuesday night at a ceremony at Tate Britain in London for her video works including Bridgit, a 33-minute film that features painterly clips of everything from swans feeding among some rocks to a T-shirt drying on a radiator.
The images are overlaid with Prodger and her friends reading excerpts from the diaries she wrote as a queer teenager in rural Scotland, passages from books, and music such as snatches of a pirate radio station.
"She's an artist we've all been following for some time," said Alex Farquharson, Tate Britain's director and the chair of the judges. "But Bridgit represents a breakthrough, and a use of a technology we're all familiar with to make something that is profound."
Farquharson said Prodger's Turner Prize win was timely, not only because of her use of technology – she has also incorporated YouTube clips into her work – but also her focus on "queerness in the broadest sense" and how people's identities can change over time.
Prodger's films are so multilayered that they feel novelistic, Farquharson added, comparing her work to the novels of James Joyce and Marcel Proust. "I'm quite overwhelmed," Prodger said upon winning, before making a call for support of artists. "I wouldn't be in this room were it not for the public funding I received from Scotland for free higher education, and later in the form of artists' bursaries and grants to support not only the production of work but living costs," she said.
Prodger's victory comes with a cash prize of £25,000 (about €28,000) and will greatly raise her profile. She is due to represent Scotland at next year's Venice Biennale. Previous winners of the prize, founded in 1984, include Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry and Steve McQueen, the director of Widows and 12 Years a Slave.
Prodger is the third woman in a row to win, after Lubaina Himid and multimedia artist Helen Marten. The Turner Prize as an annual chance to assess, or pour scorn over, the state of contemporary art. This year's all-film shortlist was called "the best and most demanding in the exhibition's history" by critic Adrian Searle in the Guardian. He had written that Prodger was his favourite for the prize: "Literary, lyrical and confessional, Bridgit is both a personal work and an attempt to analyse one's place in the world."
Prodger said she felt that moving-image work was marginalised in the art world because "it is long to watch, it is hard to install." "I was very pleased that all the finalists used it," she said. But the Tate's show of the shortlisted works did not receive such enthusiasm in all quarters. Waldemar Januszczak, an art critic for the Sunday Times, wrote that the exhibition was "thoroughly consistent." "From beginning to end," he wrote, "this soul-crusher of a show is unusually awful." Prodger's contribution was "the least bad," he added.
Nevertheless, Prodger was a surprise winner. The favourite was Forensic Architecture, a research firm that uses architectural technology to investigate human-rights abuses. The other two shortlisted artists were Naeem Mohaiemen, nominated for two long films – one exploring Bangladesh's politics after independence, the other about a man trapped in an airport – and Luke Willis Thompson, who makes video portraits of victims of police brutality.
Prodger was born in Bournemouth on England's south coast, but grew up in rural Scotland. She studied at Goldsmiths, part of the University of London, and at the Glasgow School of Art, and has had solo exhibitions at galleries including the Sculpture Centre in New York and the Bergen Kunsthall in Norway.
Although not a household name, Prodger has been regularly called on to discuss queerness in art by British magazines. “Ultimately, queerness is not a category or a style but a lived experience, which I feel is in danger of being colonized, of being sanitised,” she told Frieze in 2014.
“The trend, which has great currency in the art market just now, of artists who may not identify as queer but are flirting with a ‘gay aesthetic’ is divorced from the actual lived experience,” she added. Such work missed the complexity of queer life, she said, which includes dealing with “violence, vulnerability and historical oppression.” – New York Times