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Turner Prize winner comes 'home' to the University of Ulster

23 March 2011

Turner Prize winning artist Susan Philipsz today made a triumphant and emotional return to the University of Ulster’s Belfast campus.

“This is where it all started for me in my formative years as an artist and I’m really grateful to the lecturers who helped push my career forward.  It was very emotional meeting them again,” the acclaimed artist said.

Glasgow-born Susan, who now lives in Berlin, completed a Master of Fine Art at the Belfast campus in 1994 and remained in the city for nine years, spending a part of that time at the Catalyst Art Centre.

“Belfast in those days was only starting to regenerate and there were many empty shops and business – really, there were very few places to exhibit.  In fact, there were only commercial galleries,” she recalled.

“In a way I think that was good because we weren’t looking to the commercial art world for inspiration. We were doing things for ourselves and working together which I enjoyed so much.

“We had to organise our own exhibitions in the Design Centre in Corporation Street, which was unfortunately a bit of a white elephant.

"But we weren’t waiting about to be discovered – that would never have happened.  We simply had to be pro-active.

“It was almost expected of us to take care of our own funding applications and we would invite people to come along and show in our gallery.

“I clearly remember that people were so generous in not only allowing us to occupy their empty office space at the Design Centre, but also some of the occupied space – and we had a captive audience every lunchtime!”

It’s seven years since Susan has been back to the University’s Belfast campus and today she was invited to deliver a lecture and presentation of her work to staff and students, as an acknowledgement of her incredible career.

And she found the experience both emotional and uplifting. “It felt amazing – just like coming home.  I have many, many lovely memories of Belfast and my University days and the experience of being back here is so familiar.  It’s an incredibly happy feeling,” said Susan.

“I have been very moved by this visit and it also means a lot to be recognised by the University of Ulster.”

Last December Susan became the first sound artist to win the Turner Prize for Modern Art, scooping the £25,000 top prize.

She uses her own voice to create evocative sound installations and her winning presentation, Lowlands, recalls the tale of a man drowned at sea who returns to tell his lover of his death.

“Although I’m from Glasgow I specialised in sculpture at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee, but it was only when I came to do my MA in Belfast that I started thinking of sound in sculptural terms,” explained Susan.

“The University of Ulster encouraged this and I suppose that helped establish the roots to my interest in sound installations.”

Her success in the prestigious competition helps bolster the artistic reputation of Ulster’s School of Art and Design, which boosts a further five Turner Prize nominees among its alumni and staff.

University of Ulster Vice-Chancellor, Professor Richard Barnett, said it was a great privilege to have Susan visit the Belfast campus. “The recognition of her outstanding work, through the award of the Turner Prize, demonstrates her standing among the very best of artists who have graduated from our University,” he said.

“We have had immense success with the Turner Prize and the School of Art and Design has many distinguished artists who continue to achieve notable accomplishments.”

Professor Ian Montgomery, Dean of the Faculty of Art, Design and the Built Environment said the University was delighted to welcome Susan back.

“Susan’s Turner Prize win is a crowning achievement following five short-listings over the years of staff and students associated with the internationally acclaimed Master of Fine Art at Belfast.”