This autumn the first Dutch solo exhibition of Scottish artist Susan Philipsz (Glasgow, 1965) will open at the Oude Kerk. After numerous visits to the church as well as extensive artistic research, Philipsz will present her context-specific sound installation in Amsterdam’s oldest building from 26 November onwards.
Philipsz calls herself a sound architect. Her work centres on the rearrangement and interpretation of existing compositions or pieces of music on the basis of the characteristics of a specific location. Philipsz investigates the spatial properties of sound, with its emotional and cognitive dimensions. In her installations, which are played at specific geographical locations and feature her own untrained voice, she uses sound to awaken an awareness in the listeners and to temporarily alter their perception of themselves at a particular place and time. Her sound works have been seen and heard in numerous places, from remote spaces such as alleys and underpasses to public places such as a platform at the documenta in Kassel, the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam and, recently, an abandoned swimming pool in Bonn.
For her sound installation in the Oude Kerk she is taking music by the Netherlands’ most famous composer, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, as her starting point. After the Reformation, Sweelinck laid the foundation for public organ recitals taking place in the Oude Kerk. Young organists from all over Europe came to Amsterdam to attend his lessons. Sweelinck was buried in the Oude Kerk 400 years ago and this anniversary is commemorated with a festival. Philipsz seeks to engage with this celebration through her work. This autumn, she will be exploring the unique acoustics of the city’s oldest building in a new way: through adaptations of Sweelinck’s music. She will examine the architecture and surrounding space further by allowing her own voice to resound in this monumental setting. Visually, the installation will make the monumental surroundings of the Oude Kerk manifest in a new way. Philipsz: ‘Singing is an almost sculptural experience. It makes you aware of your inner space and of the effect of your own voice when you project its sound into a space. I am particularly interested in the emotional and psychological properties of sound and in the way it can be used as a means of changing individual consciousness.’
Philipsz created a separate work especially for the Oude Kerk’s churchwardens chamber: a sculpture made from several organ pipes that, through the voice and breath of the artist, appears to breathe life into the space.
Philipsz studied sculpture at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee and completed a masters in Fine Art at the University of Ulster. Her work has been exhibited in numerous places worldwide since. Some examples: the Melbourne International Biennial in 1999, Manifesta 3 in Ljubljana in 2000, the Tirana Biennial in 2001, the Tate Triennial of British Art in 2003 and the 16th Biennale of Sydney in 2008. In 2010 she received a commission to make a work for 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. This was the first time the prestigious award was given to a sound work.