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Sound art acknowledged by Turner Prize result

An ethereal recording of a Scottish lament being performed over the River Clyde has become the first aural winner of the Turner Prize.

An ethereal recording of a Scottish lament being performed over the River Clyde has become the first aural winner of the Turner Prize.

Susan Philipsz (pictured), 45, received her award during a ceremony at London’s Tate Britain gallery that also attracted the ardent attention of protesters keen to make their feelings known about forthcoming student fee hikes.

In addition to becoming the first aural winner of the prize, Philipsz is the fourth woman to receive the Turner Prize in its 26-year history.

Philipsz’s winning work is nothing if not minimal, consisting solely of a recording of her own voice performing the traditional 16th century Scottish song ‘Lowlands Away’. Originally presented at the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, the Tate Britain installation consists of two loudspeakers in a plain white room.

The prize also acknowledged her work ‘Long Gone’ in the group exhibition Mirrors at MARCO Museuo de Arte Comtemporánea de Vigo in Spain.

A statement posted on the Turner Prize website said that the jury “admired the way in which [Philipsz’s work] provokes both intellectual and instinctive responses and reflects a series of decisions about the relationship between sound and sight. Philipsz’s work draws on the immersive properties of sound and uses her own voice to create powerful sculptural experiences.”

Always the favourite to win the £25,000 prize, Philipsz fended off competition from three other shorlisted artists: Dexter Dalwood, Angela de la Cruz and the Otolith Group. It was, ahem, an intriguing selection. Whilst Dalwood specialised in painting fictionalised scenes with relevance to the contemporary world, such as the scene at which the body of weapons expert Dr. David Kelly was discovered, de la Cruz proffered a series of distressed or battered canvases. The Otolith Group – comprising Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun – included within their submission a three-quarter hour film that drew on a variety of pre-existing material.

Although there was little sense of shock about the final result – indeed, it was a remarkably uncontroversial year in the very eventful history of the Turner Prize – some commentators were delighted by Philipsz’s win. Writing in The Guardian, Adrian Searle remarked that “her sense of place, and space, memory and presence reminds me, weirdly, of the sculptor Richard Serra at his best. Her art makes you think of your place in the world, and opens you up to your feelings.”

Philipsz is currently engaged in a project for contemporary arts organisation Artangel that entails recordings of her performances by 16/17C composers, including John Dowland, being piped through the backstreets and alleyways of the City of London. ‘Surround Me: A Song Cycle for the City of London’ takes place on Saturdays and Sundays until 2 January.