FIFTH EDITION 2013 / 2015


Corin Sworn, b. 1976, Glasgow

2007-2009 MFA, Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow 
1999-2002 BFA, Integrated Media Program, Emily Carr Institue of Art & Design, Vancouver, BC, Canada 
2001-2002 BA, Art & Design Program, Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London, UK
1994-1999 BA Psychology, minor Art History, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada


Corin Sworn, winner of the fifth edition of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, presents her new project Silent Sticks at Whitechapel Gallery of London from 20 May to 19 July 2015, and at Collezione Maramotti from 4 October 2015 to 28 February 2016.  

Sworn (b. 1975, lives and works in Glasgow) creates films and installations deeply rooted in research, which weave together history with memories and fragments of true or imagined stories. Her new large-scale installation draws from the characters and tales of the Commedia dell’Arte, improvised plays from the 16th century that originated in Italy where they continue to be of great cultural importance. Featuring a dramatic stage set with props, costumes, sound and video elements the new work is a result of Sworn’s 2014 Italian residency awarded as part of the Prize.

Performed by travelling troupes of actors who existed on the fringes of late-renaissance society, Commedia dell’Arte dramas featured figures with exaggerated expressions and gestures. The characters of la commedia have influenced artists and writers for hundreds of years, from Shakespeare and Marlowe to Goya and Picasso.

Sworn is interested in how mistaken identity was frequently used as a literary device in early theatre productions. Actors in radically different guises, such as a woman dressed as a man, a master dressed as a servant or a lord as a beggar played with the perceived fixity of insignia and rank.

Early actors and the characters they took on pointed to social freedoms and mobility but also anxieties around misrecognition and social instability. The work adapts a famous 16th century case of imposture in response to these themes. The installation features fragments of sound and video, and is built through sourced and handmade props and costumes derived from the text Scenarios of the Commedia Dell'Arte, by Flaminio Scala, an actor and manager of one of the most pre-eminent theatre companies of the renaissance.

Sworn also researched the circulation of clothing of the time and collaborated with the Max Mara fashion house to produce costumes for the work. Based on sketches of garments made by the artist, the detailed costumes included in the installation were developed by the designers and skilled craftspeople at the Max Mara headquarters in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Corin Sworn was selected as the winner of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women by a judging panel including Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick, gallerist Pilar Corrias, collector Candida Gertler, artist Runa Islam and curator and writer Lisa Le Feuvre.

Based on her winning proposal for the Prize, the artist was awarded a bespoke 6-month residency in Italy divided between Rome, Naples and Venice. Sworn spent the residency immersing herself in the culture of each city, studying traditional plays and meeting actors and experts in the Commedia dell’Arte. She also visited important architectural sites including Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, whose grand trompe-l'oeil stage set is the oldest in the world.

Iwona Blazwick, OBE, Director of the Whitechapel Gallery said: ‘For the fifth edition of the Prize we are presenting the culmination of Corin Sworn’s research from her residency, which gave her an opportunity to sample the culture and fascinating history of theatre in Italy. Sworn’s thorough exploration of la commedia and its complex impact on contemporary culture is original and fascinating. Her sensitive eye and intelligent interpretation of theatrical devices and scenography has been transformed into an arresting and complex visual installation, which will take us on a memorable journey.’

Luigi Maramotti, Chairman of Max Mara said: ‘The Max Mara Art Prize for Women in collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery nurtures the creative talent of the next generation of female artists. In this fast-paced world we offer the gift of time in which to make a new work of art. From Rome to Venice, Corin has been inspired by the legacy of the Commedia dell’Arte in Italian cultural life, and we are honoured to help bring this artist’s vision to life and also create handmade costumes from our fashion house. We look forward to seeing this new commission at the Whitechapel Gallery and sharing this with audiences in Italy at the Collezione Maramotti.’

  • Exhibition image
  • In opera
  • Opening
  • Video