Laure Prouvost: a Turner Prize for the Senses

Lori Zimmer
Dec 20, 2013 3:00PM

From My latest article on

This year’s Turner Prize winner, Laure Prouvost, surprised many by taking home the prestigious prize with her moving piece Wantee, which weaves together a fictional narrative about her grandfather’s relationship with artist Kurt Schwitters. The beautifully moving and immersive film and installation was well received by the panel of four judges, but ranked in low odds at the bookmakers, making for an unlikely, and unexpected win. Prouvost, who was born in France but moved to London at age 18, is known for her gorgeously intimate film installations that invite the viewer into the intimate realm of her narratives, while blurring the line between the real and the imaginary. The engaging (and often giggling) artist will receive the sum of 25,000£ ($41,000) for the prestigious prize, which was awarded at Ebrington Barracks in Londonberry, North Ireland.

Since graduating from Goldsmiths College and Central St Martins, Prouvost has been exploring the power of the narrative through film, which is often accompanied by collage, painting, drawings, photographs and installation environments. Through these varied mediums, the 35-year-old artist creates artworks that powerfully entice the senses. Using just visuals and sound, Prouvost has the power to rouse the other senses of touch, smell and taste, bringing on unexpected experiential emotions, without actually touching, smelling or tasting anything. What attracted the favor of the judges for this year’s Turner Prize was this master’s manipulation of the senses, coupled with Prouvost’s use and understanding of new technology. Her meshing of film and installation with a stream of images that evoke the style of Instagram have defined her as an artist of the postinternet age, expertly weaving art historical references and intimate narratives with a newer and fresher style of media.

The award winning Wantee transports viewers into the center of a tea party in disarray, interspersed with the artist’s signature narrative video, which is simply named for Kurt Schwitters’ girlfriend’s habit of asking guests “want tea?” The piece was originally commissioned by Grizedale Arts and the Tate Britain, for the Schwitters in Britain show at the Tate earlier this year. Wantee invites viewers inside the artwork, as if they’ve entered into a secret art realm, joining the work themselves. Viewers are welcomed into a vaguely personal story, narrated by Prouvost herself, as she weaves the tale of a fictional relationship between her grandfather and the artist Kurt Schwitters, who died in 1948. Props such as tea pots and cutlery, which she calls “things left by my grandparents,” appear both in the film and on the table in the installation, creating a dialogue and connection between viewer and the film, which toys with Prouvost’s love of jumping between the real and imaginary (finding both to be equally important). The immersive installation asks the viewer to bring their own experiences into the piece, and allows for personal interpretation through comparison to their own lives. With the seduction of the viewer in mind, Prouvost’s Wantee continued to move the judges, which chose her despite some tough competition including performance artist Tino Sehgal,painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and multi-faceted artist David Shrigley on the final shortlist.

The Turner Prize is not the first time Prouvost was recognized for her incredible work. In 2012, the artist was the recipient of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which won her on a six month residency in Italy. Inspired by the lush colors and flavors of the Italian countryside, Prouvost created a sensuous two-part installation, which was exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery.  Like WanteeFarfromwords played on the sumptuousness of the senses, interweaving the lush palettes of Italy with birds, water, sensuous nudes and plump raspberries that appeared in the accompanying film, Swallow, and for the viewer’s taking in of the installation.  Prouvost used the residency and award to illustrate the long-storied artist tradition of using the Mediterranean for inspiration,  while making it her own by creating a heightened awareness of the senses to all who experienced it.

Prouvost, who speaks with a rolling French accent that adds romance to her films, attributes her obsession with visual media and the moving image to her childhood home, where she was not allowed to watch television. Her imaginative and interactive installations mark the trend of experiential art that has recently excited the art world. The visionary artist can only expect a future of incredible exposure, as she joins the roster of now-famous Turner Prize winners like Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst.


Lori Zimmer