Sydney-based artist Susan Norrie is the 2019 winner of the Don Macfarlane Prize, an annual $50,000, no-strings-attached cash prize awarded to an Australian artist in recognition of their unwavering, agenda-setting arts practice and contribution to Australian art.
Norrie trained initially as a painter, shifting towards film and installation in the mid-1990s with a focus on political commentary, environmental and humanitarian concerns, and increasingly urgent conflicts between humankind and nature. Commissioned in 2002 by the Melbourne Festival and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Undertow was a six-screen mix of storms, dust clouds and thermal mud pools capturing manmade and natural catastrophes; and Passenger, created in 2003 for the Museum of Contemporary Art, juxtaposed images of New Zealand glow worm caves and insect swarms with scientific experiments. These large-scale immersive, painterly film projects reflect an urgency in the face of an increasingly uncertain social, political and ecological world.
Norrie represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 2007, alongside Callum Morton and Daniel von Sturmer, with the work HAVOC, focused on the Lusi mud volcano disaster in Indonesia. In 2016 she was commissioned by The Australian War Memorial to create a new film work, which is currently in development. Her works are in numerous collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Auckland City Art Gallery and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, amongst others. Significant exhibitions include the 2014 Biennale of Sydney, the 2011 Yokohama Triennale, and a survey exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne in 2016.
‘Over the past three decades, Susan’s practice continues to be strikingly relevant, deeply foreboding and beautifully composed, bringing a moment of poetry and redemption to research driven, aesthetic, social, political and scientific material. Using art as a tool to remind us of the most vexing and urgent issues of our times, Susan Norrie is a true pioneer,’ said the Advisory Committee.
‘The prize also recognizes the contribution Susan has made not only with her own art practice but also the mentoring and advocacy role she has played in the visual arts sector, particularly when representing artists on the Boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne.’
2019 panellists were Jessica Bridgfoot (Director, Bendigo Art Gallery), Rebecca Coates (Director, Shepparton Art Museum), Max Delany (Artistic Director/CEO, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art), Nicole Durling (Senior Curator, MONA), Kelly Gellatly (Director, Ian Potter Museum of Art), Chris McAuliffe (Professor of Practice Led Research, School of Art and Design, Australian National University) and Eddie Butler-Bowdon (Collections Manager, City of Melbourne).
In accepting the prize, Norrie said: ‘This is such an incredible honour especially as the prize is decided by leading representatives from the curatorial industry. It is also exceptionally rare to receive an award that comes without strings attached, as almost always prizes and grants are given for specific projects. I can’t think of any prizes that support the technical aspect of making art, and so the Don Macfarlane Prize will allow me to update my editing facilities and studio infrastructure.’