A University of Ulster graduate has become the first sound artist to win the Turner Prize for Modern Art.
Glasgow-born Susan Philipsz completed a Master of Fine Art at Ulster’s Belfast campus in 1994 before embarking on her early career at the Catalyst Arts Centre in Belfast.
Susan, who is currently working in Berlin, uses her own voice to create uniquely evocative sound installations. She has recorded three separate versions of a traditional folk song, Lowlands Away, which tells the tale of a man drowned at sea who returns to tell his lover of his death.
It was first performed beneath three bridges over the River Clyde in her native Glasgow, but for the past two months has been playing in the white void of the galleries at Tate Britain.
She was one of four artists in the running for the £25,000 award. Other works included a painting of the scene where scientist David Kelly died, a collection of broken canvasses laid on top of each other and a series of films.
The prestigious win underscores the artistic reputation of the University’s School of Art and Design, which boasts a further five Turner Prize nominees among its alumni and staff.
Willie Doherty, a Professor of Video Art in the School of Art and Design, has been nominated twice for the Turner Prize in 1994 and 2003; former lecturer Declan McGonagle was nominated in 1987; Christine Borland, a sculptor, was shortlisted in 1997, video artist Phil Collins, was nominated in 2006, and sculptor Cathy Wilkes, was shortlisted in 2008.
Alistair Wilson, MFA Course Director at Ulster, who taught Susan during her time in Belfast, said: “The Master of Fine Art course at the University is no stranger to success in relation to international art prizes in general and the Turner Prize in particular, having been responsible for six individual nominees from the body of staff and alumni over the life of the competition.
“Susan Philipsz however has become the first alumnus to win the £25,000 prize outright. We are very proud of the record of our past students in this prestigious international showcase and Susan’s nomination and ultimate success is particularly sweet.
“This success justifies the unequivocal approach to professional practice and international research which the MFA course aims to foster.
“We always encourage students to think strategically in relation to developing a career pathway and in Susan’s case in particular this award is the result of years of hard work in the development of her art and her professional profile.
“All of those associated with the Master of Fine Art at Ulster - both past and present - are delighted at this news today and I am sure that there is more success to come.”
Professor Ian Montgomery, Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and the Built Environment added: “To have a winner of the most widely recognised contemporary arts prizes in the world among the alumni of Ulster’s School of Art and Design is a fantastic achievement.
“We whole-heartedly congratulate Susan on winning the Turner Prize and also on her success in becoming the first sound installation artist to do so. This tremendous win augments the national and international reputation of the School of Art and Design and of our MFA course.”