Artist Susan Philipsz has won Britain’s Turner Prize for her sound installation featuring a 16th century Scottish lament by a sailor lost at sea.
In a move that fitted with the Turner’s reputation for honouring unusual works, the judges of the contemporary art award handed Philipsz the £25,000 (US$39,000) prize.
“It has been overwhelming the wonderful responses I’ve been getting for the work and I just didn’t expect that,” she said while receiving the award on Monday at the Tate Britain museum in London.
The Glasgow-born artist’s work, entitled Lowlands, is a sound installation of the lament Lowlands Away.
An untrained singer, Philipsz sang three versions of the song unaccompanied and then mixed together the recordings echoing off the underside of bridges in Glasgow, creating an ethereal sound.
It was the first time a sound installation had even been shortlisted but her win was not unexpected with bookmakers making her a firm favourite last week.
Her artwork is the latest in a string of off-the-wall creations to be nominated for the prize – an unmade bed and an empty room with a pair of lights flashing on and off have in the past featured in the Turner.
Meanwhile, more than 100 students protesting against plans by the coalition government to raise university tuition fees held a sit-in at the gallery during the ceremony and their chants of “No cuts” were audible throughout.
Their demonstration did not disrupt proceedings but they did win the backing of Philipsz, who said she was against moves to cut support for students.
“I was a student protesting. I think they have every right to protest. I don’t think they should cut the grants,” she said.
“My heart goes out to them.”
The other nominated artists – Dexter Dalwood, Angela de la Cruz and The Otolith Group – each received £5,000.
The Turner Prize was set up in 1984 to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art. It is open to British artists aged under 50.
It has regularly been the subject of controversy, notably in 1999, when Tracey Emin was shortlisted for My Bed, which featured an unmade bed with stained sheets.
And in 2001 Martin Creed was ridiculed after his installation, The Lights Going On And Off, won the prize.