‘I Thought of Songs as Found Objects’: Watch Turner Prize-Winning Artist Susan Philipsz Sculpt the Sounds of History

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the "Berlin" episode of "Art in the Twenty-First Century," Season 9. © Art21, Inc. 2018.

Turner Prize-winning artist Susan Philipsz hears things where others perceive only silence. The Scottish-born, Berlin-based artist has built her career creating art with and about things that can’t be seen. Just don’t call her a musician.

Instead, she views herself as a sculptor, treating audio as a physical material that she coaxes and bends into different formations. In an exclusive interview for Art21’s new 2018 season, the artist says, “I thought of songs as found objects” that she could collect them from different times and places and then re-contextualize through a contemporary lens.

Production still from the “Berlin” episode of “Art in the Twenty-First Century,” Season 9. © Art21, Inc. 2018.

In 2012, Philipsz created her own rendition of “Study for Strings,” a work composed by the Czech musician Pavel Haas shortly before he was murdered in Auschwitz. The work was originally meant for a 24-piece orchestra, but in her version, Philipsz only recorded two of the parts, telling Art21 that “silence really makes you think about the absence of the other performers who would’ve been killed.”

For her current show, “Susan Philipsz: A Single Voice,” at New York’s Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Philipsz has created a fully immersive installation that presents her trademark audio work alongside paintings and video screens, all of which explore compositions produced in the 17th century. “Sound can really act as a trigger for memory,” she told Art21. It “can bring you back to a particular place and time. I wanted to bring those voices from the past into the present.”

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Susan Philipsz: A Single Voice” is on view at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery through December 15, 2018. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television is available now on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.


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