The Belfast-based group of artists and activists called Array Collective have won the 2021 Turner Prize, becoming the first winner from Northern Ireland in the history of the prestigious Tate-sponsored award.
The selection of Array Collective was announced this evening during a dedicated ceremony in Coventry, England. Four other artist groups—Black Obsidian Sound System, Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical, and Project Art Works—were also up for the award, marking the first time that the pool of nominees was made up of entirely of collectives.
With the prize, Array Collective will take home £25,000 ($33,000). The group said the money would be put toward securing stable studio space for its 11 members in Belfast. The four runners-up, meanwhile, will each get £10,000 ($13,000).
“What they deal with is really serious stuff,” said Alex Farquharson, Tate Britain’s director and the chair of the Turner Prize, speaking of the winning collective’s work. He pointed to the group’s tackling of LGBT issues and its “feminist perspectives on issues today in a…divided society.”
“What the jury feels is remarkable is the amazing lightness of touch and play and conviviality and sense of hospitality—the sense of carnival—that they bring to the work,” the director added.
That signature combination of the political and the playful is on full display at the official prize exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, down the road from the cathedral where tonight’s ceremony took place. There, Array Collective installed a site-specific síbín, or a clandestine pub, decked out with flags, banners, and other forms of protest. The goal, according to the group, was to create “a place to gather outside the sectarian divides.”
“With Array, we [didn’t have a] sense of how they would translate what they do in Belfast to the floor of the gallery,” noted Farquharson, alluding to the fact that the group’s practice—which includes performances, protests, and public installations—rarely confines itself to a white cube. “Seeing the síbín and the life in it—it was just this marvelous transposition in the space of an exhibition.”
Four notable art-world figures joined Farquharson on this year’s Turner Prize panel: Aaron Cezar, director of the Delfina Foundation in London; Kim McAleese, program director of Grand Union in Birmingham; Russell Tovey, actor and co-host of the Talk Art podcast; and Zoé Whitley, the director of the Chisenhale Gallery, also located in London.
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