By Michael Roddy
LONDONDERRY (Reuters) - French-born film installation artist Laure Prouvost won Britain's prestigious Turner Prize on Monday for a short film clip that in part tells the story of a fictional grandfather digging a hole to Africa and disappearing down it.
An emotional and surprised Prouvost, who lives and works in London, told a crowd of hundreds at the awards ceremony: "I didn't expect this at all ... I was sure it was not me."
After presenting the award, the Oscar-nominated Irish actress Saoirse Ronan brought Prouvost's baby onto the stage to a chorus of "aahs" from the audience.
The ceremony was held in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, the first time the prize has been awarded outside England. Prouvost told reporters she felt Britain was her "adopted" home because "this is the country that let me grow".
The Turner winner gets 25,000 pounds ($40,900), with 5,000 pounds for each of the three runners-up - Scottish conceptual artist David Shrigley, London-born painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and Berlin-based English artist Tino Sehgal, who specialises in creating encounters between visitors to galleries and people he enlists to talk to them.
Prouvost is known for films and installations with complex story lines and sometimes surreal interruptions, images and choppy editing. "I was not allowed to watch TV when I was little so I became obsessed with it. I'm catching up," she said.
Her winning work, "Wantee", includes a 15-minute film purporting to be a tour of her late grandfather's sculpture studio. Instead, it shows how his outmoded works - some of them present in the room where the film is shown - have wound up being used to make furniture, or as a kitchen stand.
The grandfather, who it becomes clear is fictional, vanished by disappearing down a tunnel he was digging to Africa. Prouvost said tongue in cheek that she would use the prize money to build a "big arts centre for grandfather".
The Turner Prize, first awarded in 1984 and named after the 19th-century English landscape and seascape painter J.M.W. Turner, has often courted controversy and is regularly lampooned in Britain's tabloid press.
Past entries have included Damien Hirst's "Mother and Child Divided", consisting of a cow and calf pickled in formaldehyde and encased in stainless steel and glass; paintings that incorporated elephant dung; and a work by conceptual artist Tracey Emin consisting of her unmade and soiled bed.
The prize, intended to celebrate new developments in contemporary art, is run by the Tate group of museums.
Tate Director Nicholas Serota said the exhibition in Londonderry had been seen by about 1,000 people daily since it opened in October, showing that contemporary art is a "relevant and vibrant part of life".
The works of the four shortlisted artists were exhibited in a new gallery installed in a former military barracks on the banks of the River Foyle in Londonderry, which was the United Kingdom "City of Culture" for 2013.
The city, known as Derry to Irish Roman Catholics, was the scene of the 1972 "Bloody Sunday" violence in which 13 unarmed protesters were killed in one of the most notorious incidents of Northern Ireland's sectarian violence, known as the "Troubles", in which 3,500 people lost their lives. The barracks housed British soldiers during those three decades.
Shona McCarthy, head of the company formed to run the year's cultural events, said they had been a runaway success in attracting visitors and healing sectarian wounds.
"The hallmark of the year has been participation, just the sheer body of people in the city getting off their backsides and participating in something joyous," she told Reuters.
"I don't think the people of Derry have any intention of turning back from this."
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)