Susan Philipsz

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

The Scottish artist Susan Philipsz, who lives and works in Berlin and Belfast works mainly with sound, film and performance. “Her work is evolving around the attempt to establish a moment of rupture in daily life,a sudden interlude of introspection. For that purpose she is often constructing a temporal space of intimacy in a public context such as a gallery or a supermarket, using sound as an effective means to move the listener. “ “The melancholia of the song, Philipsz’ s bare voice, the way she sings the song 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 do with the extend to which she is capable of exposing herself, physically and mentally through the act of singing unaccompanied and allowing for mistakes to happen.”

“This is also very true in the case of the (.) work Ziggy Stardust (2001). The title refers to David Bowies legendary album from 1972 . In this work Philipsz also recorded herself singing her way through the whole album unaccompanied. All though she tries to be as faithful as possible to the original, the songs have been given a totally new expression, to the extent of being nearly unrecognisable. Hearing the songs stripped of anything but a single human voice, has the strange effect of directing the focus to the materiality of the recording itself: the physicality of the time and place and the acoustic bodily traces of the person who sings. The focus is not only on the performance, but also on the physical and mental conditions relating 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. Her work is designed to intensify the awareness of the viewer or the listener.This is what Philipsz small ephemeral interventions are about. Her work is not only an attempt to evoke personal memories or relocate an audience to another time or space. It is equally important that the viewer or listener,through that process of introspection, becomes aware of oneself as well as ones surroundings.”

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

Exhibition: 17/04/04 – 22/05/04