Dublin-born artist Duncan Campbell won the Turner Prize for a “topical though not always obvious” film that ranges from African masks and comedy ketchup bottles, to the IRA and Marx’s theories interpreted through dance.
Mr Campbell, who has made art films about carmaker John DeLorean and political activist Bernadette Devlin, was firm favourite to win the £25,000 prize, the most prestigious award for contemporary art in Britain.
Yet on the prize’s 30th anniversary, with a shortlist that some had described as underwhelming and traditional protesters The Stuckists not even bothering to demonstrate, the Tate admitted it had been “a quieter show than some years”.
The award was presented by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor at Tate Britain in London to a work the jury called “ambitious and complex which rewards repeat viewing”. This marks the third consecutive year a video artist has won the prize.
Penelope Curtis, head of Tate Britain and chair of the jury, said: “Everyone felt it was a strong film, well presented and would be happy to watch again because it’s complicated rich and rewarding.”
It for Others runs for almost an hour and was originally shown at Scotland’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Mr Campbell, 42, described it as an “essay film” which was a “moment in thought rather than being some kind of conclusion”.
Dr Curtis said: “Whether it’s about Irish nationalism or the place of the Euro, or the way governments support industry or not, he often has his finger on the pulse in a way that is not immediately obvious.”
The film starts with a response to the 1953 documentary Statues Also Die by French film makers Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, which suggests African art died at the hands of colonialism, as it was forced to appeal to a Western market.
It looks at the controversial issue of repatriation of objects including those in the British Museum, although he was not allowed to film inside the institution.
Dr Curtis said: “It wasn’t an outrageous comment; it’s just a fact of life that all big institutions have to deal with. Many directors and commentators have been agonising over it in the past 10 or 15 years.”
The film includes the Michael Clark dance company, which interprets equations from Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, as well as the artist’s exploration of the way imagery was used to construct political messages during the Troubles in the Republic of Ireland.
Mr Campbell studied at the University of Ulster before carrying out a master of fine arts degree at the Glasgow School of Art, and has been based in Glasgow since.
One art critic described him as a “consummate film-maker with a ferocious intelligence”. Jennifer Higgie, the editor of art magazine Frieze, said: “He’s a really compelling filmmaker. I’ve noticed that when his films are shown in galleries people will sit through 45 minutes and no one will leave.”
He beat printmaker Ciara Phillips and video artists James Richards and Tris Vonna-Michell to the prize.
Last year the winner was French-born artist based in the UK Laure Prouvost, for her playful installations and video work, following Elizabeth Price, who also worked in the medium.
Dr Curtis was not surprised about the recent success of video artists: “It’s been such a strong medium for the last 20 years,” she said. “In fact, I’m surprised there haven’t been more winners.”