Susan Philipsz

Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden

Susan Philipsz’s solo exhibition at the Bonniers Konsthall spans four rooms of differing sizes and qualities – some large and bright, others small and dim. In a sense, however, ‘Lost in Space’ covers far more rooms. In fact, you might say, it covers all the rooms we inhabit, from that grandest of salons we call the universe, our solar system and beyond, to the most intimate of spaces: our bedrooms, our minds, the chambers of our beating hearts.

The exhibition features newly commissioned projects and past works. Best-known is the artist’s moving acapella rendition of David Bowie’s album Ziggy Stardust (2001). Philipsz’s voice is serious and tender, like that of a teenager, at once confident and shy, uncertain, strangely upbeat at times and downhearted at others. It is also noticeably untrained or, at least, not trained to perfection, straining to hit the notes, struggling to keep form – but persevering. In the process, toiling pitch after toiling pitch, the artist adds texture to and thickens this auditory-space with echoes of the bedroom of one’s youth, with its dreams of Bowie and Ziggy, adventure and space travel – whilst simultaneously suggesting that the world we occupy is finite, won’t orbit forever. This feeling of finitude resonates as much through the artist’s physical absence – a spot-lit circle in the middle of the room is conspicuously empty – as through Bowie’s recent departure.

The centrepiece of the exhibition, the extraordinary A Single Voice (2017), repeats and reinforces this duality. The installation consists of two overlapping parts. Adapting, or reworking, Karl-Birger Blomdahl’s opera Aniara (1959), which tells the story of a spaceship taking flight after the earth’s resources are exhausted, only to get lost en route to Mars, Philipsz and violinist Leila Akhmatova replay only the first violin. Recorded note by note, in separate sessions, each note emerges from a different speaker at a different point in the room. The effect is manifold. As the artist has described it: in one sense, the effect is as if the soundtrack were being played in another room, displaced, decontextualized – like knocks on a wall or an SOS signal. Here, space is extended beyond its architectural parameters into various behinds and beyonds, each note intimating further depths and distances. Another consequence is that the space itself seems pluralized, textured, diffracted, since each of the notes, each of the speakers, draws you towards it, momentarily, only to drag you in a different direction, then another and so on. The soundscape here at once opens space up and binds it –
a sense, truly, of being lost in space, having everywhere and nowhere to go.

‘Lost in Space’ is as much a curatorial achievement as it is an artistic one, and is Sara Arrhenius’s last project before leaving the directorship of Bonniers Konsthall. Each of the installations shines extraordinarily bright in relationship to the others. If Ziggy Stardust centrifugally breathes intimacy across its non-place, Radio Star (2017) centripetally sucks the whole universe into a TV screen, resounding and depicting pulsar waves as radio waves and white noise. Similarly, where the installation A Single Voice disperses sound, in the accompanying video recording – a first for the artist – of the violinist performing one of the tones, the camera orbits around the musician, locating the sound in her body. To be lost in space, here, is to be swept up and ground down by this pulsation, in this space that beats, that swells and shrinks, opens and binds.

Lead image: Susan Philipsz, A Single Voice, 2017, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York and Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin

 

Timotheus Vermeulen is associate professor in Media, Culture and Society at the University of Oslo and a regular contributor to frieze. His latest book, Metamodernism: Historicity, Affect and Depth after Postmodernism, co-edited with Robin van den Akker and Alison Gibbons, is published with Rowman and Littlefield.

Issue 186

First published in Issue 186

April 2017

Most Read

‘I could be the President of the United States, and still half the people in the room would question my authority’
From Linder at the Women’s Library to rare paintings by Serge Charchoune, the exhibitions to see outside of the main...
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
Ahead of the 52nd edition of Art Cologne, your guide to the best shows to see in the city
‘I'm interested in the voice as author, as witness, as conduit, as ventriloquist’ – the artist speaks...
In further news: a report shows significant class divide in the arts; and Helen Cammock wins Max Mara art prize
A genre more associated with painting, an interest in the environment grounds a number of recent artists’ films 
A new report suggests that women, people from working-class backgrounds and BAME workers all face significant...
The divisive director out after less than six months by mutual consent
In further news: Gillian Ayres (1930-2018); Met appoints Max Hollein as director; Cannes announces official selection
With miart in town, the best art to see across the city – from ghostly apparitions to the many performances across the...
From Grave of the Fireflies to The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the visionary director grounded fantasy with...
In further news: art dealer and Warhol friend killed in Trump Tower fire; UK arts organizations’s gender pay gap...
Emin threatened ‘to punch her lights out’, she claimed in a recent interview
As the Man Booker Prize debates whether to nix US writers, the ‘homogenized future’ some novelists fear for British...
‘Very often, the answer to why not would be: because you’re a girl’ – for this series, writer Fran Lebowitz speaks...
The artist is also planning a glass fountain of herself spouting her own blood
‘The difficulties are those which remain invisible’: for a new series, writer and curator Andrianna Campbell speaks...
With ‘David Bowie Is’ at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Glenn Adamson on the evolution of the music video – a genre Bowie...
Under a metahistorical guise, the filmmaking duo enact hidden tyrannies of the contemporary age
The area’s development boom isn’t just in luxury property – the art scene is determined to keep its place too
In further news: Laura Owens’s 356 Mission space closes; John Baldessari guest-stars in The Simpsons
With his fourth plinth commission unveiled in London, the artist talks archaeological magic tricks and ...
When dealing with abuse in the art industry, is it possible to separate the noun ‘work’ from the verb?

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018