Canadian Artist Ciara Phillips, Finalist for the 2014 Turner Prize


Turner Prize installation shot, Duncan Campbell, It for Others (2013). Copyright the artist. Courtesy Tate Photography

Glasgow’s Duncan Campbell has won the 2014 Turner Prize for his film It for Others (2013), which was made for Scotland’s Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Campbell beat out three other artists for the £25,000 prize ($45,000 Cdn), including Canadian-born and fellow Glasgow-based artist Ciara Phillips.

“I don’t know what lies beyond this,” Campbell said in a post-awards video, produced by the Tate gallery in London, which administers the award. “The anticipation before they made the announcement was pretty intense. It was a bit surreal; it had a bit of a dream-like quality, the whole walk to the stage. Pretty awesome.”

The Turner Prize, set up in 1984, is an annual contemporary art prize awarded to a British artist under the age of 50 for an exhibition or presentation of their work in the year leading up to the award’s announcement. Each of the three runners-up received £5,000 ($9,000 Cdn) in prize money.

Ottawa-born artist Ciara Phillips, who moved to Glasgow to complete her Masters Degree at the Glasgow School of Art and elected to stay in Scotland, was nominated for her exhibition Workshop 2010 Ongoing. The installation involved turning London’s The Showroom gallery into a print workshop, where she invited other artists, designers, and even local women’s groups, to come in and make prints with her.


Turner Prize 2014 finalist Ciara Phillips. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Tate Photography

“I’ve done it twice before — the first time in 2010, then again in 2012,” Phillips told NGC Magazine in an interview from London. “The other people who come to work with me in that kind of situation always bring a lot of energy into the project. What I am nominated for is that approach, the attitude of that, as opposed to the things that were produced as a result. There were some really good outcomes, but I think the nomination was really for the attitude of the whole thing,” she says.

The Turner Prize, named after the great British artist J.M.W. Turner, has become a lightning rod in the United Kingdom for negative reactions to contemporary art. The winners and nominees are often lampooned in the national and regional press, and even art critics get in on the act of questioning the value of the prize.

“It’s something you have to prepare yourself for,” says Phillips. “When you are first asked if you accept the nomination, you have to think to yourself: ‘Can I handle that aspect of it?’ Because it’s a big part of being nominated: your work getting slated in the press. It’s something about the legacy of the Turner Prize; it’s the one art event of the year that everyone is allowed to say how awful it is.” 

None of the negative attention from the mainstream press, however, seems to have had an impact on dampening the enthusiasm of the nominees. Phillips seems very excited about the honour. 

“It was a huge shock for me, because I didn’t see it coming in any way whatsoever,” says Phillips. “It feels like an achievement — a real achievement for the work — and it felt really nice to be nominated for that particular exhibition, which was pretty experimental in lots of ways. The Gallery took a chance. The project did not have a defined outcome, and the Gallery didn’t know exactly what they were going to get, but they were very open to letting things happen. So I felt really happy that it was not just about the work that I did, but about all the people who supported it and contributed. It felt extremely nice to be nominated for that,” she says.


Turner Prize installation shot, Ciara Phillips Things Shared (2014). Copyright the artist. Courtesy Tate Photography

Although Phillips is now based in Glasgow, she was born in Ottawa to an Irish mother and a Canadian father who worked for Canada’s diplomatic service. When she was seven years old, her father was posted to London to serve as Canada’s Minister for Cultural Affairs at Canada House. It was in London, that Phillips was first exposed to the art world.

“I was introduced to art exhibitions at Canada House,” she says. “I remember being impressed by a hologram show that they had in the 1980s; but that was my first exposure to art. We went back to Ottawa in 1988 — the year the new building for the National Gallery of Canada opened — and I remember that being really important.”

Phillips is enjoying her time in Glasgow, describing the city as an affordable place to live, with a vibrant arts scene that makes up for the inclement Scottish weather. Being nominated for the Turner Prize has propelled her name into the global spotlight, and has brought her new opportunities to exhibit in locations around the world. For Canadians wondering when she will be returning home for an exhibition, she is tight-lipped, not wishing to give anything away, but promises that there will be an exhibition of some sort in Canada in 2016.

The other two shortlisted artists are James Richards and Tris Vonna-Michell. To learn more about them, and winner Duncan Campbell, please click here. The Turner Prize 2014 exhibition is on view at Tate Britain until January 4, 2015. For more information please click here.

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