French-Albanian artist Anri Sala has been announced the winner of the Vincent Award 2014, a biannual European art prize established in 2000 and hosted at the Gemeentemuseum The Hague for the first time this year. Sala was selected by an international jury from a shortlist that included Pierre Huyghe, Manfred Pernice, Willem de Rooij and UK Turner Prize winner, Gillian Wearing.
The Dutch prize, which was set up by the Broere Foundation, seeks to support a mid-career artist ‘whose work is appreciably influencing the development of contemporary art in Europe’. Sala was awarded the hefty €50,000 in prize money at a ceremony on Friday night, apparently following much deliberation from the judging panel who praised the artist’s ‘poetic and at the same time conceptual work’.
For his display at the Gemeentemuseum, Sala combines three early works into a new audiovisual installation. Two films, Le Clash (2010) and Tlatelolco Clash (2011) revolve around the song Should I Stay or Should I Go? by punk band The Clash, and are played simultaneously on two large screens installed back to back. Filmed around a now defunct concert hall in Bordeaux, Le Clash follows three performers as they play different renditions of the song through a barrel organ and a music box. Tlatelolco Clash, set among the ruins of the Tlatelolco archeological site in Mexico City, sees figures play a fragmented version of the tune by inserting a perforated musical score into a barrel organ. The third work, Doldrum, consists of a snare drum whose drumsticks autonomously come to life having been activated by the low frequencies of the films’ soundtracks.
The disjointed nature of the sound, which echoes hauntingly around the gallery, is made more emphatic by the fact that you are only able to view one film at a time. This is typical of Sala’s works, which often revolve around sound and its fraught relationship to image. Accepting his award via live video feed, the artist expressed his regret at being absent, remarking that ‘It’s a great frustration – though maybe it is a little like my work, where the image is in one place and the sound is in another!’
Benno Tempel, chairman of the jury and director of the Gemeentemuseum, spoke of being impressed by ‘an installation where the viewer is constantly challenged by image, sound and movement’, and also praised Sala’s questioning of the status quo and the way his work ‘presents the idea of gone ideologies’. The musical discord in Sala’s films does in fact point to a wider concern with historical, social and political rupture, explaining the artist’s deliberate portrayal of sites of ruin and abandonment.
Commenting on the particularly western focus of this year’s award, Tempel also stressed the prize’s European nature. This comes at a moment when political debate about Europe is rife, particularly in the UK. A tool to encourage artistic talent, the award, as Tempel made clear, also serves to ‘promote communication in a free, united and peaceful Europe’. Hosting this year’s event in The Hague, centre of diplomacy, sends this message loud and clear.
‘The Vincent Award 2014’ runs at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, until 1 February 2015.