Prize-winning film heralds era of iPhone art

Scene: Screenshots from the prize winning video artwork Bridgit — shot entirely on an iPhone.

Is this a good thing? The 2018 Turner Prize has been won by video artist Charlotte Prodger. The film explores her experience of coming out as gay and was shot entirely on her phone.

Sunlight streaming through a window; the Scottish countryside, seen from a speeding train; a cat pawing at a lamp; a T-shirt hanging on a radiator; the observation deck of a giant ship. These are just some of the clips included in the artwork that won this year’s Turner Prize.

The prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the art world. Named after the great English painter J.M.W Turner, the winner receives £25,000 and a big boost from the publicity.

This year, that artist is Charlotte Prodger, who won with her film Bridgit. The piece is highly personal, with critic Hannah Duguid describing it as an “exceptionally beautiful video diary”.

During the piece, Prodger narrates her experience of coming out as gay in rural Scotland, and how other people were often unsure if she was a girl or a boy. “The stories that I’m telling […] are stories that a lot of people — I guess queer people — have experienced,” she said.

But it was how these stories were captured that really excited the judges. Prodger shot the film entirely on her smartphone. Judge Alex Farquharson said it was the “most profound use of a device as prosaic as the iPhone camera that we’ve seen in art”.

Some think this could be a watershed moment. As Will Gompertz writes, the Turner Prize is “now within the grasp of anybody with a smartphone and a story to tell.”

Smartphones are already making an impact in the film industry. In 2015, Sean Baker’s Tangerine became the first film shot on an iPhone to feature at the Sundance Film Festival, winning multiple awards and rave reviews.

All the while, the technology is becoming increasingly accessible. By 2020, almost three billion people are expected to own a smartphone. Already, 1.2 trillion photos are taken every year on phone cameras.

“It doesn’t cost anything to make broadcast quality video, all you need is talent,” says media expert Michael Rosenblum. “The tools out there are so cheap and easy to use that any nine-year-old can operate them.”

Is the rise of iPhone art a good thing?

Action

Of course, some argue. The art world has long been elitist and exclusive. Considering smartphone videos as art opens it up to a whole new generation of young people. We all have unique stories and experiences, and smartphones are an accessible technology that we can use to share them with the world — iPhone art is here to stay.

Definitely not, others respond. We spend far too much time on our phones. Furthermore, apps like Instagram are already making us dangerously obsessive about our digital image. Art is about connecting with the real world. Get out into nature: paint, draw, write and apply creativity to things that do not have screens and an internet connection.

You Decide

  1. Do posts on Instagram count as art?
  2. Is modern art good?

Activities

  1. Watch a short excerpt of Bridgit by following the first link in Become An Expert. What do you think? Share your first impressions of the work with the class? What do you like or dislike about it? How does it make you feel? Why is it considered art?
  2. Now compare the artwork with a painting by Turner — the artist that the prize is named after. You can choose any Turner painting to compare it to. Which do you prefer and why? Are there any similarities between Turner’s painting and Prodger’s video?

Some People Say...

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Pablo Picasso

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There were four finalists in this year’s Turner Prize, with every piece making use of video. In fact, it takes more than four hours to watch all the films from start to finish. Prodger says that she chose to use an iPhone for “ease of use and the way you can use it while you are going about the world. For me, everything is in there.”
What do we not know?
How popular the winner will be with the public. The finalists as a whole have received mixed reviews from critics. Laura Cumming said it was the best Turner Prize in years, “by turns shattering, absorbing, beguiling, highly political, frequently momentous”. By contrast, Waldemar Januszczak wrote: “From beginning to end, this soul-crusher of a show is unusually awful.”

Word Watch

J.M.W Turner
English artist (1775-1851). His famous works include The Fighting Temeraire, The Slave Ship and Fishermen at Sea. While he is seen as a traditional painter now, his work was considered extremely radical during his lifetime.
Film
The prize represents all artistic media, including painting, sculpture, installation and film.
Prosaic
Something that is commonplace and unoriginal.
Watershed
A turning point in history.
Tangerine
The story follows a transgender sex worker called Sin-Dee Rella. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 88% of critics gave the film a positive review.
Sundance
The largest independent film festival in the United States. Many celebrated films and directors got their big break from success at Sundance.
Three billion
According to Statista.
1.2 trillion
According to research by InfoTrends.