Just an old bike? Or is it a poetic narrative? Either way, Starling flies to Turner Prize

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For some men, their shed is a haven, a home for prized objects and a space in which to dream. For Simon Starling, it has given him a ticket to £25,000 Turner Prize success.

The 38-year-old artist last night beat the critics' favourite, Jim Lambie, the painter Gillian Carnegie and video artist Darren Almond to take Britain's most prestigious prize for contemporary art.

Just as Martin Creed is famed for presenting a room with a light switch turning on and off for his winning Turner Prize exhibit four years ago, Starling will be remembered for his shed - or more precisely Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No 2).

For this, he dismantled a shed discovered on the banks of the Rhine river, transformed it into a boat to float the wooden planks down river and then reassembled it on land. But as part of what one critic described as Crusty Conceptualism, Starling's environmentally friendly art also involved a 41-mile journey on a home-made electric bicycle across a Spanish desert. He then produced a watercolour painting of a cactus using the water that was the only waste product from the trip.

A Tate spokeswoman said: "The jury admired his unique ability to create poetic narratives which draw together a wide range of cultural, political and historical references." But the jury, which included the critic Louisa Buck and the Barbican gallery's head, Kate Bush, with Sir Nicholas Serota, the Tate's director, as chairman, expressed their "admiration" for all the artists and stressed the strength of the exhibition at Tate Britain.

Explaining Starling's work when his nomination was announced, Martin Myrone, a Tate curator, said that his art involved pilgrimage-like journeys. "Starling's pilgrimages ... in their combination of lengthiness and needlessness, are a buttress against the compression of time and space characteristic of modernity and of global capitalism," he said.

But not all the critics were convinced. In the words of the sceptical Daily Mail: "To the casual observer ... it is a shack."

And even more considered observers were frustrated. The Sunday Telegraph liked the "naïve but contemporary political flavour" and said such madcap projects should generate interesting adventures, "the problem is we don't get the adventures".

The more sympathetic Art Review described Starling as "a nomadic, pioneering soul possessed of energy and determination and an admirable respect for the land through which he passes. He leaves little trace of his presence, save the documentation of his passage, a physical residue that constitutes the basis for the work itself."

Simon Starling was born in Epsom in 1967 and studied at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham and then Glasgow School of Art. He now lives and works in Glasgow and Berlin. He was nominated this year for his exhibitions at The Modern Institute, Glasgow, and the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona.

He has said of his work: "I have searched for a language that conveys the 'concept' of things and doesn't simply illustrate them."

His victory may surprise the art world, who had made the psychedelic pop-influenced installation of another graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, Jim Lambie, the popular choice for this year's prize. Lambie, Carnegie and Almond each receive a cheque for £5,000, thanks to sponsorship from Gordon's Gin.

The Turner Prize, which was first presented in 1984, is awarded to a British artist under 50 for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of his or her work in the 12 months to May.

It has become an enormously popular part of the annual exhibitions calendar at Tate Britain, where queues have formed to see the works of previous winners such as Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor and Chris Ofili.

The prize has its detractors, however. The Stuckists, who dislike the conceptual art they claim is championed by Sir Nicholas Serota and the Tate, were demonstrating outside the gallery last night. They have been particularly angered by a recent decision of the Tate trustees to buy a work by former Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili, who is himself a Tate trustee.