is or what that specific conversation was based on, you can go
deeper into it. Meanwhile, the public space comes with its own
ambient sound, which can interfere with the installation. That was
especially the case with Lowlands, an installation originally made
for the International Glasgow Festival of Visual Art. [Philipsz won
the 2010 Turner Prize for this work.] I recorded my singing of “
Lowlands Away,” a 16th-century Scottish lament, and projected it
beneath three bridges leading over the Clyde—George V Bridge, the
Caledonian railway bridge, and Glasgow Bridge. Because the urban
context was really gritty, with water, trains, and people overhead,
it was hard to be completely transported or to enter into a state
of reverie with the work. Different things were happening simultaneously and fighting each other, and so you remained grounded
in the present moment.
SB: Perhaps present and past were clashing, but you did manage
to bring sound and emotion from the past into a contemporary
context. The same applied in 2000, when you were invited to contribute a piece to Manifesta 3, in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In that case,
you recorded a version of the old socialist anthem, “The Internationale” and played it under a public walkway.
SP: It’s true that sound, and particularly song, can trigger memory.
People have strong associations with the human voice, especially
when it is unaccompanied. Of course, a lot of people know the song
that I used in this piece, but it’s usually associated with crowds—I
ever, it suggests other things—it becomes a lament to something
that’s past, and yet it’s ambiguous. By putting it in a particular con-
text, it evokes new meanings and allows for new ways of seeing a
place. As a result, it has a whole new life.
SB: Many of your works, no matter how elaborate, are meant to
be temporary. Is it possible to take the idea of a work and re-con-textualize it within another space? Or do you see each installation
as a unique and finite project?
SP: That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.
People have asked me how I would envision a retrospective of my
work and whether I would have to show works in their original locations. I think, in the end, there are other ways one could do it. We
could find new public spaces, which would provide a new context
and give the work a new life. People often say to me, “Of course, it
won’t be as good as it was in its original location.” However, if
you think about it, the original location is here in my studio, where
I make the work. Lowlands, for example, is associated with the
bridges in Glasgow, but it was first shown at the Isabella Bortolozzi
Galerie in Berlin, which overlooks the canal into which Rosa Luxemburg was thrown after being murdered in 1919. I was also thinking
about Anna Livia Plurabelle, a character in James Joyce’s Finnegans
Wake, who also embodies the river. That was the original context.
It’s interesting that people cannot imagine a particular work being
Study for Strings, 2012. View of installation at the Kassel Hauptbahnhof, Kassel.