Susan Philipsz 17/04/04 – 22/05/04

“Even before entering the space you can hear the bustling ambient noises ofa busy public place. Then a simple tune comes in, cutting across all theother sounds. You can just about recognise it as Hank Williams “I’m soLonesome I Could Cry”. It is an instrumental version, played in a kitschyslow waltzing way, like muzak you might know from the supermarket. Thensomebody begins to whistle (to herself), along with the tune. Theperformance is rather flawed, but in a quite charming way. Then you hear anannouncement over the public-address system, and then a woman asks for thebus that goes to Guadalupe. Then you realise that what you are actuallyhearing are sounds from a bus station.” (Susan Philipsz, “Guadalupe”, 2003)

The Scottish artist Susan Philipsz, who lives and works in Berlin andBelfast works mainly with sound, film and performance. “Her work isevolving around the attempt to establish a moment of rupture in daily life,a sudden interlude of introspection. For that purpose she is oftenconstructing a temporal space of intimacy in a public context such as agallery or a supermarket, using sound as an effective means to move thelistener. “
“The melancholia of the song, Philipsz’ s bare voice, the way she sings thesong as to herself, and the way she pauses before she starts to sing again,instantly creates a strong feeling of introspection and intimacy.The captivating power of Philipsz’s singing performances has much to dowith the extend to which she is capable of exposing herself, physically andmentally through the act of singing unaccompanied and allowing for mistakesto happen.”

“This is also very true in the case of the (.) work “Ziggy Stardust” from2001. The title refers to David Bowies legendary album from 1972 . In thiswork Philipsz also recorded herself singing her way through the whole albumunaccompanied. All though she tries to be as faithful as possible to theoriginal, the songs have been given a totally new expression, to the extentof being nearly unrecognisable. Hearing the songs stripped of anything buta single human voice, has the strange effect of directing the focus to themateriality of the recording itself: the physicality of the time and placeand the acoustic bodily traces of the person who sings. The focus is notonly on the performance, but also on the physical and mental conditionsrelating to the act of the performance itself.”

“Even though her work suggests a casual or even accidental procedure,Philipsz is consciously working with the properties of time and space. Herwork is designed to intensify the awareness of the viewer or the listener.This is what Philipsz small ephemeral interventions are about. Her work isnot only an attempt to evoke personal memories or relocate an audience toanother time or space. It is equally important that the viewer or listener,through that process of introspection, becomes aware of oneself as well asones surroundings.”

“Her most recent work “Returning”, 2004 is also conceptualising the role ofthe spectator. The work is a 10 minute film loop. It consists of a singleshot that focuses on a memorial in a park in Berlin. The monument marks theplace of the murder of the socialist leader Karl Liebknecht who was shot onthe night of 15th January 1919. The camera observes the park life from adistance on a beautiful sunny day in January, where the trees cast longshadows on the dead leaves lying on the ground. It secretly records theflow of different groups of people who pass by, some interrupt theirjourney, devoting a few moments to study the tragic message of thememorial, contrasting with its gay surroundings. The camera is in factobserving the act of observing and so reminding the viewer of his or hersown position. The nostalgic tactility of the 16 mm film, the fact that itis silent and the frozen position of the camera emphasises a disturbingdistance in time and place between the scenery and the viewer. Thespectator can not interfere, only observe, as a murderer returning to thescene of a crime or as a spectre looking down on their grave.”

“It never ceases to be fascinating how effectively music can overrule theconscious workings of the mind. Susan Philipsz is using that capacity tomake the well known seem strange, to introduce intimacy, where it does notusually occur, and thereby shift the focus away from the trivialities ofthe everyday to a deeper awareness of oneself as an individual and as asocial human being. “
(Quotes from Lotte Möller’s Catalogue-text, Kunstverein Arnsberg, 28 March- 9 May, 2004. See also Catalogue Becks Futures Prize catalogue, ICALondon, 26 March – 16 May 2004)

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