2010 Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz's work expands the potential for the presentation of sound-oriented work within the gallery context, incorporating performative and site-specific aspects that draw on history, literature, and popular and folk music. Her installations feature strategically placed audio speakers within a given space that transmit a cappella versions of songs sung by the artist.
Philipsz deliberately selects particular pieces of music to reinterpret vocally and then separates the multiple audio tracks so that the "viewer" experiences different voices as they move through a space, creating a situation in which familiar music is heard differently and the human voice is understood in a radically different and physically disorienting manner.
We Shall Be All is a sound installation commissioned for the MCA Collection that "explore[s] the spatial properties of sound, utilizing aspects of Chicago's ... complex political history" - particularly the use of slogans and statements associated with collective groups such as the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World).
She states: "against the backdrop of the modernist architecture of the city I see the voice as a means to infiltrate spaces, like a ghost in the machine, and return experience to a human scale." She also "see[s] the voice as a means to address people both individually and as a collective. Experiencing a lone disembodied voice in a public setting can produce a strange experience among an unsuspecting audience, like feeling alone in a crowd."
We Shall Be All also considers the broader context of song in relationship to Chicago political movements and historical events (such as the 1968 Democratic National Convention or the election of Barack Obama as President), as well as the city's rich and expansive musical history.
The MCA is also presenting an earlier work by Philipsz, The Internationale (1999), in the second-floor atrium as a complement to We Shall Be All and to provide a better sense of the artist's overall practice.
Susan Philipsz: We Shall Be All is curated by Dominic Molon, Chief Curator of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.