Susan Philipsz

Over the past two decades, Susan Philipsz (1965, Glasgow) has explored the psychological and sculptural potential of sound. The artist's immersive environments of architecture and song heighten the visitor’s engagement with their surroundings, while inspiring thoughtful introspection. The music Philipsz selects – which has ranged from sixteenth-century ballads and Irish folk tunes to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust – responds specifically to the space in which the work is installed. According to the artist, “everyone can identify with a human voice, and hearing an unaccompanied voice, especially an untrained one, even if it's singing a song you don't know, can trigger some really powerful memories and associations.” Although Philipsz sings many of her works, the fact that she has an untrained, average voice is a key element of her work. While each piece is unique, the storylines and references are often recognizable, exploring familiar themes of loss, longing, hope, and return. These universal narratives trigger personal reactions, while also temporarily bridging the gaps between the individual and the collective, as well as between interior and exterior spaces.

Philipsz studied sculpture at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee and completed a Master’s in Fine Art at the University of Ulster. Her work has been exhibited in various institutions and biennials such as: Melbourne International Biennial in 1999, Manifesta 3 Ljubljana, Tirana Biennial 2001, Tate Triennial 2003, 16th Biennale, Sydney 2008. In 2010 she was commissioned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. In 2013, work by Philipsz was included in Soundings: A Contemporary Score, the first-ever major exhibition of sound art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. She won the Turner Prize in 2010, the first time a prestigious award was given to a sound work.

The Two Sisters
Sound Installation, 2009

The Two Sisters is a five-channel sound installation that tells the story of drowning and touches on themes of loss and mourning. The ballad The Wind and the Rain has been around for hundreds of years and is still sung today. It has its origins in Scotland and Ireland and was published as The Twa Sisters in Jamieson’s Popular Ballads and Songs in 1656. This song has many versions, but its essence always remains the same. The story is one of sororicide, where one sister drowns the other in a jealous rage. The river carries her drowned body, until a fiddler comes across her remains. Her bones and hair are fashioned into a fiddle, but the fiddle can only play The Wind and the Rain.