The Turner Prize has been awarded to Elizabeth Price for a “rhythmic and ritualistic” film linking Gothic architecture, a 1960s girl group and a tragic fire at a Woolworths store.
The Bradford-born artist on Monday night carried off the contemporary art prize – known for its ability to divide critics and public alike – with a video installation praised by judges for its “seductive and immersive qualities”.
The film, which is punctuated by clicking fingers and clapping, explores the idea of a chorus or choir through a carefully timed succession of archive images, internet clips and old photographs.
Ms Price accepted the annual award from actor Jude Law at a ceremony at Tate Britain, which marks the return of the event to London from its Gateshead venue last year.
Speaking at the podium, Mr Law delivered a broadside to the government over what he described as its policy of “cultural vandalism” in arts funding, which has come under intense pressure from public spending cuts. Ms Price echoed his words in her acceptance speech, warning that the cuts would threaten the artists of the future. “My career is unimaginable without support for the arts,” she said.
In her artwork, called “The Woolworths Fire of 1979”, a section on a Gothic church illustrates the role of a choir in church architecture, while another shows the Shangri-Las, an all-girl pop group or “chorus”, in a rendition of their 1965 hit Out on the Streets. The fire that tore through a Manchester branch of the now-defunct retailer is examined through contemporary footage interwoven with the testimony of witnesses, which appears as text on the screen.
The judges said they were impressed by the “rhythmic and ritualistic experience” Ms Price created through her film and her skill in combining varied source materials.
Up against Ms Price were the bookies’ favourite Paul Noble, whose painstakingly detailed drawings satirise society through the depiction of an imaginary city; Luke Fowler, a video artist whose work examined the Scottish psychologist RD Laing; and performance artist Spartacus Chetwynd, who used both puppetry and audience participation to explore political incompetence.
The judging panel were Tate Britain’s director Penelope Curtis; Andrew Hunt, director of Focal Point Gallery in Southend-on-Sea; Heike Munder, director of Zurich’s Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst; Michael Stanley, director of the Modern Art Oxford gallery; and Mark Sladen, director of Copenhagen’s Kunsthal Charlottenborg gallery.
Channel 4 supported the award, which is given to a British artist under 50 for an exhibition held in the previous 12 months – in Ms Price’s case, for her solo show “Here” at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. She will receive £25,000 and the other three shortlisted artists will receive £5,000 each.
Set up in 1984 to promote public discussion of new developments in contemporary British art, the Turner Prize has provoked frequent controversy. But in recent years it has also drawn claims of a diminishing power to shock.
Tracey Emin prompted both praise and disbelief in 1999 for her unmade bed, while last year’s winner Martin Creed provoked the sceptics with an installation in which the lights went on and off in an empty room. Other past winners include stars of British contemporary art, such as Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley, Chris Ofili and Rachel Whiteread.