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Newcastle University artist wins top prize at Summer Exhibition

2 August 2022

Newcastle University artist wins top prize at Summer Exhibition

Professor Uta Kögelsberger has won the Royal Academy's Charles Wollaston Award for her multi-channel video Cull which highlights the devastation of Californian forest fires.

The £25k prize is presented to the ‘most distinguished work’ in the exhibition and is one of the most significant art prizes awarded in the UK.

The theme of this year’s exhibition is climate and Cull follows the gigantic task of the clear up process after the 2020 Castle Fire that burned 174,000 acres of Sequoia National Forest and destroyed 14% of the world giant sequoia population. It charts the efforts of the teams responsible for cutting down the dead trees left standing that are now endangering the remaining structures and roads. In an orchestrated choreography, each tree is documented as it comes crashing to the ground like a dead carcass, sometimes falling with such force that the earth beneath it shakes.

“It is such an incredible honour to now be part of an amazing list of artists that have previously received this award like Wolfgang Tillmans, Isaac Julien, Alison Wilding and many others,” said Professor Kögelsberger. “I can’t quite wrap my head around it.”
“But just as important is the much-needed acknowledgment of the urgency of the situation in our forests, the damage we have caused and the urgent need to do something about this. We need systemic change, but we also can’t wait for systemic change to happen.”

A universal emergency

Cull is the anchor piece of Professor Kögelsberger‘s Fire Complex project, which brings together photography and video in the public realm to raise momentum and resources for the regeneration of our forests. She initiated Fire Complex after a large part of the community in Sequoia Crest, including her cabin, burned to the ground in the 2020 Castle Fire. This is a project that starts with the personal to communicate a universal emergency.

Fire Complex is so much bigger than me, and Cull may be the poster child of it all, but I think of this prize as a celebration for all the amazing people that have been involved in this project, offering their support simply because they felt it needed to happen. This is not a work I could have done on my own and I would like to send a very big thank you to all those who have been involved.”

The judges for this year’s award were Martha Kapos, Ian Mckeever RA and Caroline Worthington. Previous winners of the Charles Wollaston Award: Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga (2021), Joe Tilson RA (2019), Mike Nelson RA (2018), Isaac Julien RA (2017), David Nash RA (2016), Rose Wylie RA (2015), Wolfgang Tillmans RA (2014), El Anatsui Hon RA (2013), Anselm Kiefer Hon RA (2012), Alison Wilding RA (2011) and Yinka Shonibare RA (2010).

Those who have been involved in and supported or contributed to Fire Complex include:

• The communities of Sequoia Crest, Alpine Village and Cedar Slope in California.
• USDA Forest Services, USA
• Cal Fire, USA.
• The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, USA
• The Rotary Club,
• Faculty Research Fund, Newcastle University, UK
• Buildhollywood, UK
• JackArts, UK
• Alchemy, USA
• Standard Vision, USA

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences