Sydney artist Nell wins $50,000 in top national artists’ self-portrait prize

On Friday October 18, competition judge and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia Assistant Director, Curatorial and Digital, Dr Blair French has announced Sydney-based artist Nell as the prize winner of the country’s most prestigious art prizes, The University of Queensland National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize 2013.

Nell’s practice encompasses work in a wide range of media, including the blackly humorous tombstone Happy ending, 2006, located outside UQ Art Museum.

Nell’s video in the Self-Portrait Prize, SUMMER, 2012, documents her destroying a work she made previously, an ironic act given her Buddhist practice, which advocates non-violence.qs

The fly in this video was made for an exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2002, and later exhibited at Newcastle Regional Gallery, The Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, and Ipswich Art Gallery. After 10 years in storage, “it was time for the fly to die, says Nell.

“Life is fragile – every living thing will die. And yet … life goes on. What was once a sculpture is now a video. SUMMER is therefore a double self portrait in which I am concurrently living and dying,” Nell said.

Judge Blair French said that good portraiture was inextricably bound with a consciousness of time and transience, and could embrace its complexity and hold on our experience.

“In the video work SUMMER, Nell presents us with a symbolic cycle of life, death and rebirth,” Dr French said.

“SUMMER has a cathartic quality not just apparent to, but felt by, the viewer. The work is angry and tender all at once,” he said.

“Beautifully conceived and produced, the work connects artist and audience in a shared recognition of the fragility of life.”

Thirty-eight of Australia’s most innovative artists entered the $50,000 invitation-only acquisitive prize, which is held by The University of Queensland every two years. They were asked to consider how the self is constructed and received in contemporary culture through the theme, remix. post. connect.


The University of Queensland National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize 2013: remix. post. Connect.
UQ Art Museum
Until 16 February, 2014

Nell, SUMMER, 2012, digital video, edition of 10, 3.00 mins.
Videography: Tina Havelock Stevens 
Sound: Ingrid Rowell.
Courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.
Winner of ‘The University of Queensland National Artists’ Self-Portrait Prize 2013