Susan Philipsz stirred controversy last year when her sound installation won the prestigious Turner Prize. Now her largest installation to date is on show at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen.
The location is an integral part of Philipsz' work
She is the first artist ever to win the UK's prestigious Turner Prize for a piece of work that can't be seen, and has made a name for herself in the international arts world for creating sound installations.
Berlin-based Susan Philipsz is a giant in her field, and the petite 45-year-old opened her biggest installation yet in a closed space in Aachen this past weekend.
"Seven Tears," her latest project, takes recordings which were played in public spaces around the city of London last year - plus one new track - into the blank canvas of the Ludwig Forum, a 3,000-sqare-meter (32,300-square-foot) former umbrella factory in Aachen.
Philipsz sings unaccompanied and "sculpts" her haunting voice in concert with the architecture, bringing a whole new angle to the work.
"It's my biggest show," explained Philipsz. "I did the show 'Surround Me' with Artangel [an arts commissioning agency] last year and it went really well. It was in six different public spaces around the city of London, so 'Seven Tears' is essentially 'Surround Me' all under the one roof, and I wanted to find a venue that could do that, where it would resonate."
Susan Philipsz has a full schedule this year
Aachen's Ludwig Forum offered the perfect setting, she added. Philipsz used seven pieces of music from the late 16th and early 17th centuries and reinterpreted them. They are played through 23 loudspeakers arranged in the forum.
Interaction with space
"In Roman times, people used to come to Aachen's waters and there are all these etchings which were similar to the things that I researched when I was doing the 'Surround Me' exhibition," explained the artist. "I was looking at 16th- and 17th -century madrigals, and that's when Aachen was famous for its hot springs.
Fluidity, circulation, water, immersion - the same themes run through both the London and the Aachen works. Anna Sophia Schultz, curator of the Ludwig Forum, told Deutsche Welle that the "interplay of the pieces can be experienced physically and directly."
Philipsz agreed, but added that is was a particular challenge incorporating all the elements under one room. The Aachen piece is "more about how it works spatially and sculpturally, and how one voice calls to the other across the space of the Ludwig forum," said the artist.
The director of Ludwig Forum, Brigitte Franzen, explained that the issues of "site specificity, contextualization and sculpture" were decisive in her decision to invite Susan Philipsz to exhibit her work in Aachen.
Haunting Scottish ballads
Philipsz is from Glasgow, Scotland, and studied art in Dundee before heading to Belfast to complete her Masters of Arts degree. She spent a decade there before taking up a residency in New York where a meeting with Klaus Biesenbach, chief curator at large of New York's Museum of Modern Art and founding director of Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin led to an invite to the German capital where she has lived and worked for the past 10 years.
Her exhibits can be found in the city's prestigious Isabella Bortolozzi Gallery, as well as the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York City.
In December 2010 she won Britain's annual Turner Prize, endowed with 25,000 pounds (28,000 euros). Philipsz began to make a name for herself on home soil with the winning installation "Lowlands," which was originally played under three bridges in the center of her native Glasgow. In the piece, Philipsz sang three versions of the 16th-century Scottish ballad "Lowlands Away" to haunting effect.
"I have always loved those bridges," the artist said. "They're just amazing, they say so much about the history, the dark underbelly of Glasgow and just architecturally it's amazing."
Philipsz' work touches a variety of senses
Internationally in demand
There were some dissenting voices among critics, who said the installations were folk music rather than art. However, galleries around the world don't seem to agree, as they are lining up to commission Philipsz, who is now busier than ever. Straight after picking up her check at the Tate Gallery in London she jetted off to Aspen, Colorado to work on another commission.
"It's been fantastic to be offered all these exhibitions. I am working on an installation for New York - a permanent piece for Governor's Island," Philipsz said. "I will be working on that and another permanent public piece in Tasmania, and I've got a show in the museum in Sydney, so I've got quite a lot on.”
'Seven Tears' by Susan Philipsz can be experienced at the Ludwig Forum in Aachen through September 25. The installation will be accompanied by a series of films, theater, readings, and music in the grounds of the Ludwig Forum as well as the guided tours of Aachen's hot springs.
Author: Lillian McDowall, Aachen
Editor: Kate Bowen