It was by sheer chance that I happened upon Charlotte Prodger’s work Bridgit (2016) at the Bergen Kunsthall during a trip to Norway in 2017. I had not heard of Prodger’s work before, but once I’d seen it, I found it beguiling. Her work had a quiet contemplativeness about it that appealed to me. It was gentle and mesmeric, a soft provoking hum that made a statement through its underratedness. It was for this exhibition in Bergen that she was nominated for the Turner Prize; where I again had the chance to see Bridgit – a 32-minute single screen film.
Like the bookies, I expected Forensic Architecture, an artist/activist collective, to be the winners of this year’s prize. However, I was excited to hear that it was in fact Prodger, my personal favourite, that had won. The prize’s jury discussed how they were impressed with the way she described “lived experience as mediated through technologies and histories” and explored “the formation of a sense of self through disparate references”. In Bridgit, Prodger subtly tackles the changing notion of queer identity in the digital age. The title itself refers to the ancient goddess Bridgit whose own name has altered as her story has been told and retold over time.
The idea of queerness as a lived experience rather than a ‘category’ is something Prodger feels is under threat. With the rise of social media, queerness is “in danger of being colonized, of being sanitized, made digestible, hip, hilarious”, but Bridgit subverts this. In a shortlist of artists who are all making big political statements through “tackling the most pressing political and humanitarian issues of today”, Prodger’s work stood out as most effective at conveying its message. It was sensitive and unfussy in its exploration into the mutability of identity without coming of as self-righteousness (something I felt some of the other works were at guilty of).
Bridgit takes on a film-collage format that brings together excerpts of clips and narratives from Prodger’s life, forming what critic Adriene Searle described as an “interior landscape of thoughts, ideas and erotics.” The age-old artistic practice of observation is what seems to be at the heart of Prodger’s work. The voice-over in Bridgit, for me, was one of the highlights of the piece. A script consisting of diary-like excerpts of her personal thoughts, quotes from various authors, and notes of things people have said to her. Prodger forms a landscape of associations through the weaving of words and images. She reflects our sense of self today that is defined in almost equal parts by body, technology, and language making it hard to navigate and easy to misidentify. Without bitterness and almost a sense of triviality Prodger recounts some of her experiences as a lesbian woman, such as being mistaken as a man. The lack of affront in her relating of these encounters reveals a sense of tiredness of how normal these incidents have become. She is talking about uncomfortable experiences, but she is not shouting and consequently we are more likely to hear what is being said.
What I most enjoyed was the visual aspect of Bridgit and its respect for the simple powers of looking. The film is shot entirely on her mobile phone and the casualness of her shots is clear – her feet at the end of a sofa or (what I presume is) her cat sniffing a lightbulb – is what makes it a success. These are all images we can relate to and ultimately, though her experiences as a queer woman are individual, she is person just like ourselves.
This mobile footage format also lends the film to a more intimate reading, as well as reviving the tradition of low-budget artists films. Recently artist’s films have become more and more cinematic, but this visual spectacle has led to a growth of more inaccessible and impersonal video art. It is Bridgit’s shaky, close-up quality that makes the work – it’s relatable and reachable. As this year’s prize contains four video artists I think Prodger’s work is the one that best explores the materiality of film and film-making. The use of Prodger’s iPhone footage has been slightly over-played in reviews of her work, but nonetheless it cannot be be ignored. Prodger investigates the idea of the mobile phone as becoming like prosthesis, an extension of the self and a natural part of our lives. Thus, Bridgit asks us: how do we define ourselves in age of permanent filming and self-editing? Frieze writer Erika Balsom articulated this perfectly: “Prodger articulates an approach to personal filmmaking that is as intelligent as it is moving, using an iPhone camera to tackle problems of autobiography and authenticity in ways that today’s legions of personal essayists and selfie obsessives would do well to learn from”.