Video artist Elizabeth Price makes works that feature existing photographs, artefacts, documents and texts that she gleans from archival collections. She re-photographs them, creating digital images that she then composes into a narrative using video editing software. The videos incorporate motion graphics, animation and sound as well as digital photography, but owe as much to the conjunction of image and text found in conceptual art as the history of experimental film-making. In 2012, she won the Turner prize for her powerful video, The Woolworths Choir of 1979.
The Woolworths Choir of 1979
In this powerful work, three seemingly disparate elements – a PowerPoint lecture on the choir architecture of a medieval church; cut-up video footage of Sixties girl groups; and television reports of a fire that killed ten people in a Woolworths department store in Manchester in 1979 – are startlingly combined and set to a soundtrack punctuated by loud hand claps and finger clicks.
They’re connected by an enigmatic gesture that appears in the human effigies embedded in the floor of the choir of a medieval church: the figures had strangely animated twisting wrists. The choir is a place of assembly and singing, but this is just one of the links with YouTube footage of 1960s girl band the Shangri-Las, dressed head-to-toe in black PVC as they performed a “fantastically sombre dance”. While Elizabeth was obsessively filming this from her computer screen, she noticed that their hand movements reminded her of the twisting wrists of the sepulchral images. She decided to use this gesture to connect these two very different pieces of footage. In her own words, she though that “it might be a way to congregate a choir – a vigorous, sexy, mysterious, powerful choir of women.” Later, she remembered a third image that she had seen on television as a child, of the desperate waving of shop workers from behind barred windows in the Woolworths fire of 1979. She had thought the women were trapped, and even wondered if the reason she was so fascinated by the Shangri-Las footage was that it was an echo of that half-forgotten gesture. In a moment of revelation, Elizabeth decided that this was the event that the choir would know about.
A Restoration (2016)
After winning the Contemporary Arts Award in 2013, Elizabeth was commissioned to create a new work in response to the collections and archives of the Ashmolean and Pitts River museums in Oxford. During the course of her research, she became particularly interested in the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans, a former curator of the Ashmolean who achieved fame for excavating the Cretian palace of Knossos at the beginning of the twentieth century. He set about restoring the site with extraordinary creative license, adding concrete pillars and filling in frescos with what she describes as 'a kind of energy that is unreserved and febrile and exciting'.
In response, Elizabeth created a twenty-minute video that opened with images of Evans's finds set to a musical soundtrack. The fictional account, set to melody and percussion, was narrated by a synthetic female voice representing a 'chorus' of museum administrators responsible for organising the digital archive. As the film progressed, it gradually became apparent that they shared Evans's permissive approach, having a somewhat unruly attitude towards the materials they were supposed to be bringing together. The stems of frescoed Knossian flowers quivered into CGI life, brushed by an imaginary breeze. Then the administrators put animals into this fertile garden before amassing records and plans to figuratively reconstruct the palace. Finally, they became taxonomically reckless, gathering together weapons, drinking cups and vessels from all periods of history from the collections of both museums. There's a short preview here.
Charlotte Higgins, 'Elizabeth Price on her Turner Prize 2012 win', The Guardian, 4 December 2012, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/dec/04/elizabeth-price-turner-prize-2012
Charlotte Higgins, 'Night at the Museum: Turner winner Elizabeth Price on breaking the glass cabinet', The Guardian, 21 March 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/mar/21/elizabeth-price-sir-arthur-evans-knossos-crete-video-art?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
Chris Harvey, 'Elizabeth Price: bringing the thrill of pop into art', The Telegraph, 19 April 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/10469346/Elizabeth-Price-bringing-the-thrill-of-pop-into-art.html
The Ruskin School of Art: Elizabeth Price, http://www.rsa.ox.ac.uk/people/elizabeth-price, accessed 18 April 2016
Video excerpt from The Woolworths Choir of 1979, http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/video/ 2012/dec/04/elizabeth-price-woolworths-choir-video?CMP=twt_fd