by Sukanya GargSep 25, 2019
Susan Philipsz, the winner of the 2010 Turner Prize, is immersing the Pulitzer Museum in Missouri in sound-based works, with the soundscapes carried outside the museum walls, to the central water court and further out towards the city’s surrounding river bodies.
The Scottish artist, who is based in Berlin, often works with themes of loss, trauma, hope and grief, in the process exploring sound as found objects to create an overall sensory spatial experience. Her works often interact with the architecture, spatial design and history of the place they are exhibited in.
One of the works in the exhibition Susan Philipsz: Seven Tears, presented by the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, then has been specially created for the Water Court outside of the museum gallery. Overall, the exhibition is showcasing five immersive sound installations, dating back to one of her oldest works to a 2019 installation that will be showcased in the United States for the first time.
For visitors to the museum, the exhibition presents a new dimension to viewing art – via sound. The works in the exhibition are spread out across the museum space. The installation The River Cycle III is displayed in the museum’s entrance courtyard where visitors are greeted with the artist’s voice crooning Radiohead’s track named, Pyramid Song. The raw nature of Phillip’s voice creates a sense of intimacy and connection with her work due to its lack of perfection, and hence echoing the feeling of anyone singing to themselves.
The work specially commissioned for the exhibition at Pulitzer, Too Much I Once Lamented, is displayed in the water court. The five channel sound installation features Philipsz’s own voice singing a 17th century madrigal of the same title by Welsh composer Thomas Tomkins. Expressing the torments of love in a setting where the external surroundings of the museum are reflected inside the water, the interplay of light and shadow and sound create an immersive atmosphere where art is no more just visual in its presentation, but deeply emotional in the reaction to the latter.
The exhibition’s namesake, Seven Tears, installed in the expansive main gallery, was inspired from a group of seven melodies by the Elizabethan composer and lutenist John Dowland, titled Lachrimae, the Latin word for tears. Each of the tunes contains rising and falling notes intended to evoke the welling and flowing of tears. While Dowland’s work was written for viola and lute, Philipsz played the piece by running her finger around the rims of seven wine glasses filled with varying amounts of water to determine the pitch. Each of the seven recordings that constitute Philipsz’s version of Lachrimae is played on a traditional record player, a reference to the original location of the work, in Hannover, Germany, where vinyl was invented. As a whole, the work provides a unique sonic-spatial experience, where visitors can literally walk through the song, experiencing the sound differently depending on their physical location.
In addition, the exhibition also features two other works Together IV and White Flood.
Speaking about the exhibition, curator Stephanie Weissberg said, “Susan Philipsz’s work, which she has described as ‘visual, aural, and emotive landscape[s],’ link the personal and the collective, provoking an awareness of both where we are at a particular moment and the larger architectural and historic contexts of those places. It is our hope that Susan Philipsz: Seven Tears — which will bring the Pulitzer galleries to life with sound that ranges from a seventeenth-century madrigal to a song by rock band Radiohead —will shed new light on Philipsz’s profound and poetic practice, as well as on the Pulitzer, its architecture, and its location in the city of St. Louis.”
The exhibition is open for viewing until February 2, 2020.