San Antonio Express-News
Art as floating songs in public spaces
San Antonio Express-News
Web Posted : 04/06/2003 12:00 AM
A lonesome song drifts down from the roof of ArtPace through the steel and glass canyons along Main Street at five-minute intervals. It's an old folk song about murder called 'Banks of the Ohio.'
The volume increases and decreases with the power of the sun, dropping sharply as the sun goes down. The song is sung a cappella by Susan Philipsz, a Scottish-born artist who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Recently selected to participate in the Triennial of British Art at the Tate in London, Philipsz also has been in the International Studio Arts Program at PS. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, NY.
'I like the idea of people just happening upon the song,' Philipsz said. 'I don't have a trained voice, but I like to sing. I think it's interesting for people to hear this voice coming out of nowhere. I think that sound can define a space so it has a sculptural quality to it.'
The song is being played over large loudspeakers mounted on tripods on the roof of ArtPace. The speakers are hooked up to solar power panels, which causes the energy level to rise and fall with the sun.
Phillipsz has sung in choirs and a country band, but she said the stripped-down a cappella voice is designed to remind people of the songs they sing when they are alone, subconsciously singing to themselves.
'I want people to feel like they are hearing something private or personal,' Philipsz said.
In another project, she used the public address system at the Quarry to sing Hank Williams' mournful 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.' She recorded the reactions of shoppers in a video that is playing as part of her installation at ArtPace.
'I did a piece at the Tate Museum using their public address system — which the museum officials didn't even know they had,' Philipsz said. 'I don't think many people were that aware of what was happening, but the ones who noticed seemed to like it. It wasn't like the pop music that's usually played in shopping centers.'
In her most programmed piece, 'Guadalupe,' she recorded ambient sounds at the downtown Greyhound Bus Station. At one point, she got on a bus and recorded a fellow passenger who played the harmonica and sang a few bars of 'I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.'
Her atmospheric soundscape conjures up the melancholy romance of the open road, recalling a lost era before supersonic jets became the transportation of choice.
By floating songs with meaning and feeling into the public sphere, Philipsz gives the thoughtful passerby the chance to reflect on a quieter, more self-conscious alternative to the slick, mechanized, soothingly soulless music played in public spaces.
Dan R. Goddard
New at ArtPace
· Art as floating songs in public spaces
· Tiny videos show odd moments
· Hypnotic galaxy of the video mind
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