Susan Philipsz: I See a Darkness: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery is very pleased to present, I See a Darkness, a major new sound installation by Susan Philipsz. Installed in the ground floor exhibition space, this will be the artist’s second solo show with the gallery.
Continuing her investigation of the psychological and sculptural potential of sound, for I See a Darkness, Philipsz creates an immersive, yet ephemeral installation comprised of three vocal and instrumental tracks that resonate throughout two darkened gallery spaces. Based on musical and literary references to such disparate sources as Will Oldham, Santa Lucia, patron saint of the blind, and James Joyce, each song is recorded by the artist and plays out in sequence, leading the visitor through the space while building a narrative that explores themes of longing, loss, and return.
Interested in the ways that sound and space can define and mediate each other, Philipsz’s installations are precise combinations of architecture and song that prompt a heightened awareness in the visitor of his or her surroundings, while simultaneously triggering meditative introspection. For I See a Darkness, Philipsz responds to the gallery’s empty space by removing the natural light, creating a cavernous environment. The dimness of the room, which is illuminated only by small lights on the floor that cast wavering shadows on the walls, focuses the visitor’s attention on Philipsz’s a cappella rendition, sung as a call and response duet, of the song “I See a Darkness” by Will Oldham. A single speaker is mounted on a white plinth, and the response to its call can be heard in the distance from the furthest point of the gallery. A lilting piano piece, Ravel’s “Pavane for Dead Princess” follows, drawing the viewer through the darkness toward the back space where it is installed. Philipsz’s recording of the 19th century Neapolitan barcarolle, “Santa Lucia” plays following her performance of the Ravel; an arrangement in four parts, her voice emanates from four separate speakers installed throughout the main gallery space. Philipsz performs all three songs in her beautifully idiosyncratic and evocative style, providing, in the words of critic David Velasco, “the experiential framework for an intimate, even transportative, encounter.”
All installation images above: Photo by Jean Vong