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Canadian-British Corin Sworn Wins Max Mara Prize

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Whitechapel Gallery’s director Iwona Blazwick announced Corin Sworn as the fifth winner of the prestigious Max Mara Art Prize for Women, on January 23, 2014. The Glasgow-based Sworn was born in the UK in 1976, but grew up in Toronto before studying in Vancouver. She was one of two Canadians on the prize’s shortlist, sharing the distinguished laurel with Toronto-born Melanie Gilligan, in addition to Beatrice Gibson, Judith Goddard, and Philomene Pirecki.

Chiefly working in film and installation media, Sworn navigates the slippery realms of memory, narrative, fiction, and oral histories. Her winning proposal for the Max Mara Art Prize is said to “reflect her continued interest in exploring the stories around migration” through a focus on the rich history of costuming at the Commedia dell’Arte and touring Italian acting troupes from the sixteenth century onwards.

The prize will take the form of a bespoke residency divided between Rome, Naples, and Venice. In Rome, Sworn will spend a season researching and considering the relationship between the Commedia dell’Arte and Italian cinema. For the next phase of the residency, she will be based in the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina in Naples, where the Commedia dell’Arte flourished through forms of street and popular theatre in the past. Her experience will end in the libraries and archives of Venice at Fondazione Bevilacqua la Masa.

Sworn’s forthcoming project will present an interesting departure from her more recent dwellings in the province of familial memory and shared history. One of three artists presented at the Scottish Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, Sworn plumbed her father’s memories to produce “The Foxes” for that platform. It is a work that began at Vancouver’s artist-run center Western Front before traveling to inhabit a 15th-century palazzo in Venice. In an interview regarding her practice, Sworn admitted that “A lot of the work that I’ve done more recently pretends to be far more personal than it actually is.” But “The Foxes” had formed an exception, taking Sworn and her father to Peru in an effort to revisit his history there, while measuring an archive of slides against the present day.

The potency and sometimes-faltering intimacy of Sworn’s work has clearly made a mark at a generation of internationally-regarded art centers. The artist has exhibited at Tate Britain, the Centre Pompidou, and Whitechapel Gallery (who remain integral to the Max Mara prize). She has also been collected by the Whitney Museum and the National Gallery of Canada, among other institutions.

On the occasion of the award’s announcement, Corin Sworn said, “The promise of six months in Italy has inspired a host of ideas for new work.”

— Sky Goodden (@ARTINFOCanada)

(Photo: Courtesy the 2013 Venice Biennale)

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