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Published 17/12/2012 email E-MAIL print PRINT

Elizabeth Price – 2012 Turner Prize winner

by ANNA McNAY

Had I been asked to place a bet upon who I thought would win the Turner Prize 2012, my money would not have been on the film artist Elizabeth Price (born 1966), for her 20-minute-long hand-clapping, finger-clicking, sing-a-long lesson in architectural history and a 70’s news tragedy, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 (2012), erring instead towards the intricate and classically skilled pencil drawings of Nobson Newtown, produced over a 16-year period by Paul Noble (born 1963).

Had I, however, been asked whom I would want to win, I would have backed Price all the way. And so it was that I found myself letting out an involuntary cheer, midway through an evening committee meeting, on 3 December, when the results were announced, and Price took to the stage at Tate Britain to accept the award from actor-presenter Jude Law.

Born in Bradford in 1966, Price has a solid academic CV comprising a BA, an MA, and a PhD, all in Fine Art, from the University of Oxford, the Royal College of Art, and the University of Leeds respectively. Her work uses high-definition digital video, mixing archival footage with live action, motion graphics, 3D computer animation and carefully edited and recomposed sound. The Woolworths Choir of 1979 is a compilation of footage drawn from various sources, put together with cleverly hidden links, one scene to the next, with explanatory texts appearing on screen PowerPoint style, and spoken narratives, cut up and reassembled by Price, so that they present something quite new and different from their original content. By the end of the 20 minutes, the viewer has been toured through the choir (quire) of a Gothic church, sung and danced with the Shangri-Las, and learnt how the devastating fire in a Manchester branch of Woolworths, which killed 10 people, broke out and spread.

Price confesses that she likes to make “provocative” works, and that this one was intentionally “loud, dramatic, and aggressive,” but also that, when she started out making it, she didn’t know it would end up being about this subject – one which has garnered criticism from many who question whether it is right for an artist to “capitalise upon a tragedy” like this. Price’s view is unequivocal, however, stating: “I believe art should be dealing with these subjects and I think art is a way to remember them.”

For most previous works, Price has continued to edit them even after they’ve been exhibited, explaining that she learns, in part, from audience reaction. I wonder whether, having been deemed “good enough” to win the Turner Prize, Price might now consider The Woolworths Choir of 1979 successful and finished enough to leave as it is?



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