Charlotte Prodger wins the Turner prize

Charlotte Prodger wins the Turner prize

FROM Edwin Landseer’s “Monarch of the Glen” to Julie Brook’s videos of burning fire-stacks floating off her native Skye, Scotland’s wild landscape has long inspired artists. Earlier this year it was announced that Charlotte Prodger would represent Scotland at the Venice Biennale in 2019. On December 4th Ms Prodger won the Turner prize, Britain’s most important contemporary-art award, worth £25,000 ($31,800), for an exhibition at the Bergen Kunsthall in Norway that included her film “Bridgit” (2016).

Born in Bournemouth and trained at Goldsmiths, University of London, Ms Prodger works in Glasgow. Now 44, she is best known among artists and curators for films that are collages of scenes shot on camcorders and, more recently, on her iPhone. In the opening scene of “Bridgit”, Ms Prodger is lying down. All the viewer can see is her grey trainers, grey socks and the bottom of her tracksuit, and a window sill adorned with pot plants. “So there’s this huge event,” she says in a voiceover. “A group of people focusing very closely on you…It’s all women. They’re totally in control of you…you’re the centre of the whole thing…but you’re not there.”

Ms Prodger uses a visit she made to hospital for surgery as an occasion to meditate on class, memory, naming, identity and queerness. The nothingness of being under anaesthetic stands in contrast to the stark focus of the nurses in the recovery room. A scene of winter woods, drenched in grey mist—or what the Scots call dreich—is the backdrop for an account of the year 1992, when Ms Prodger was 18 and working in an old people’s home in rural Aberdeenshire before she came out. She knew no lesbians and had no sexual experience, but still she dreamed of a “queer life”.

It was the same year that Julian Cope, a British musician and poet, was touring Aberdeenshire’s Neolithic standing stones in search of an antidote to the stress and chaos of modern urban life. She quotes his work, and the stones themselves offer Ms Prodger the opportunity to reflect on ancient names and identities. Before the Domesday Book in the 11th century, identity was never static. It changed with age and experience: then, the name Bridgit might have been Bride, Brid, Brig or Bree. Back in the hospital, Ms Prodger remembers other uncertainties: being mistaken for a boy in a girls’ toilet, for example, or her girlfriend being taken for her daughter.

Throughout, Ms Prodger has a light touch. The iPhone she uses to shoot the film is wielded carefully, almost as an extension of herself: it gives the wild leaps between different centuries, between the interior of the recovery room and the wildness of the Scottish landscape an intimate feel that echoes the confessional script. That the surgery she is having is for an elective hysterectomy is never spelled out, but it hangs over the whole film with an ambient, private sadness.

“The jury was united in a feeling that this work was introducing something new to the filmic medium and how it is used in art,” Alex Farquharson, the director of Tate Britain and chair of the jury, said. “It ends up being so unexpectedly expansive.” Not everyone is convinced by the work, though, as they rarely are by Turner prize-winning works. On a public board at Tate Britain, outside the screening room where “Bridgit” was being shown on a loop the day after the award was announced, two comments appeared side by side. One called her film “very rewarding, sensitive and revealing”. Another said it was “self-obsessed drivel; worse than a neighbour’s holiday pics!” But then art was never meant to please everyone.

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