sculpting sound?

December 9 2010

Artist Susan Philipsz has received the Turner Art Prize for a sound installation Lowlands. She records herself singing a Scottish lament in three different locations, under bridges in Scotland, and then layers them on top of each other. She doesn’t describe herself as a musician, or a ‘sound artist’, but instead, she ‘scultps sound’ (apparently this involves an awareness of space that musicians don’t employ….)

… so really,…. does this award have any point other than trying to earn a cheap headline????. Lowlands is clearly a musical work. It is no more ‘sound art’ then Beethoven’s 5th being played in urban train stations to discourage youth loitering, or Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters being played on the loudspeakers of a local pub.

the work seems pleasant enough although I have never ‘seen’ it – the lack of any visual element or dependence on a particular space doesn’t really inspire a need to fly over and ‘see’ the $40,000 prize-winning work. in a Cagean way, Beethoven’s 5th at the train station would seemingly be more visually engaging, assuming the existence of some graffiti and moving billboards. but, according to the Turner judges, the work expressed an ‘intelligibility’ as well as an ‘unknown something’ that all great works of art have.

so, how adventurous, how daring, of the Turner prize to include ‘music’ in ‘visual art’, and celebrate a recording of Scottish folk songs as “new developments in contemporary art” (can you hear Pierre Schaeffer moaning and playing from his grave an selection of musique concrete??). I’m sure there will be many skeptics who agree with British art critic Richard Dorment who mentioned in his blog:

“I’ve often noticed that people who don’t have the talent to make a TV commercial have no trouble passing their static black and white films off as high art. Maybe that’s what’s happening here and with her Turner Prize money Ms Philipsz will go off and start a choir.”

mmmm… hear the sound of artists from all over the world collectively sigh…

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