‘Lowlands’ by Susan Phillipz (2010)
Lowlands is a sound instillation work by a sculpture artist Susan Phillipz. She is a Glasgow born artist originally trained in the field of sculpture. She studied sculpture at Duncan of Jordanstone Collage of Art in Dundee which she continually draws influence from to inform her work today which she references as “Sound Sculptures”. Susan’s works involve recordings of herself singing folk songs as the primary medium. She projects her voice over a public speaker system to interact with the natural surroundings.
The work ‘Lowlands’ was initially performed in a walkway space underneath the bridges on top of the Ricer Clyde in Glasgow. Susan is not musically trained thus on entry level, the instillation can sound rather ordinary. As you move around the space, three large black speakers infiltrate the surrounding air with Susan’s voice performing a cover of a 16th century Scottish ballad known as ‘Lowlands’. It is installed under the bridges so that the viewer experiences echoing and the refraction of sound bouncing off the water which resonates noise and tone around the viewer thus making the audience experience the same work in multiple different ways by hearing sounds differently as they move around the work.
A critically important fact to note is that the artist cannot read nor does she write any of her own music. She even admits that her own voice is distinctly average. She has quoted that she even hates the sound of her own voice, “I partially hate my speaking voice”. (Corner, 2010)Yet she uses her untrained and unaccompanied singing voice as her sole medium, which interacts with the cityscape and nature surrounding her, which changes the viewers perspective. She quotes, “It’s all about how the emotive and psychological effects of sound can heighten your awareness of the space you are in,” she says. “It felt like a very natural progression to go from sculpture to sound.” (Corner, 2010) It is also interesting to note that this work is quite controversial. Some viewers believe that due to the lack of musical training it is quite uncomfortable to listen to Susan’s work and that they cant appreciate its value, especially when it was nominated and won the Turner Prize worth 25,000 euros. Some speculate that because she is an untrained musician and also the first sound artist ever to be shortlisted for the most prestigious prize in British art, that she isn’t worthy of such a prestigious nomination let alone wonning the award.
Corner, L. 2010, ‘The art of noise: ‘sculptor in sound’ Susan Philipsz’, The guardian, 14 November, pp.5-6