As students protested fee cuts in the cold outside, Susan Philipsz scooped the 2010 Turner Prize and pocketed £25,000 at the Tate Britain.
She won with her ‘sound installation’ Lowlands, prompting the usual collective groan from art traditionalists around the country. Ms Philipsz’s work is the first aural piece to ever win the Turner Prize. The competition appeared to have retreated into gimmickry again.
But in Kingston’s Fine Arts Department the reaction was Controversy? What Controversy?
Louis Nixon, head of the School of Fine Art, saw nothing wrong with a sound installation winning what has traditionally been a visual competition: “Art installations have a place in the Turner Prize… anything is open to be art if, if you point at it and say it’s art.”
“It’s good that the Turner is not just an exhibition of painting and sculpture.”
When pressed on the question of whether art and the Turner Prize encompassed literally everything, Mr Nixon clarified: “Anything has the potential to be art. A can of shit can be art… if you put something in the Turner Prize or the Tate Gallery, then it is art.”
When I asked if the Turner Prize was open to any piece of music, Mr. Nixon said that context was all important: “The context of the space and situation transforms what it is. If I was to sing exactly the same thing in a concert hall or sing it in a gallery, it would be two different things.”
Mr. Nixon’s problem was not in a sound piece winning the Turner Prize, but in the fact that Philipsz’s work is not actually pioneering at all.
“Other artists have done the same thing before, and better. The Tate Modern have shown sound works before. Bruce Nauman has put on a fantastic exhibition there in the Turbine Gallery. It is just that people outside the art world don’t know that sound is an accepted medium.”
“This doesn’t herald a new direction in art. It’s been there a long time.”
Mr Nixon described Susan Philipsz work as “not that strong”, but believes that it lost a lot of its meaning by being transplanted from its original home under a bridge next to the River Clyde.
“The original context was all important. Without it it lost a lot of its power. In a gallery context… there wasn’t much to look at.”
These sentiments were echoed elsewhere in the Arts Department. Final year student Jim Robertson described Philipsz’s work as ‘shit’, but said that he saw no problem at all in a sound piece winning the Turner Prize.
All in all this year’s Turner Prize seemed to leave people a little cold. Mr Nixon said that he had been a bit disappointed by the whole thing. Its most memorable feature, he joked, was the unconventional spelling of its winners surname. British art, he mused ruefully, “is in a bit of a transition.”
So another year in The Turner Prize comes to an unsatisfactory end, the traditionalists disapproving, the avant-garde unshocked, art in the wilderness.