Susan Philipsz, War Damaged Musical Instruments, Tate Britain

Susan Philipsz, War Damaged Musical Instruments, Tate Britain

As part of its ongoing commemorations of the centenary of the First World War, and in reference to its own wartime past as the site of a military hospital, Tate Britain presents a sound installation by the Turner prize-winning artist Susan Philipsz.

Presented in the Duveen Galleries, the work sees the surrounding spaces filled with the sound of  recordings of The Last Post played on a range of brass and woodwind instruments, all of which were damaged in various conflicts. It features instruments of British and German origin playing individual tones from the military bugle call used to signal to lost and wounded soldiers that fighting had finished.

The central section of the work makes use of the sounds of several instruments from the First World War. Other instruments, like the Balaclava Bugle or the horn from the Battle of Waterloo, have detailed histories, while those salvaged from a bunker in Berlin at the end of the Second World War speak of the chaos that civilian life is thrown into in times of conflict. Philipsz’s work produces focused lines of sound in the galleries, echoing the directional signals given to soldiers as they advanced and retreated in battle.

Philipsz says: “I have focused on the brass and woodwind family, as these instruments need the human breath to produce the sound. I am less interested in creating music than to see what sounds these instruments are still capable of, even if that sound is just the breath of the player as he or she exhales through the battered instrument. All the recordings have a strong human presence.”

Ann Gallagher, Director of Collection (British Art), at Tate said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Susan Philipsz back to Tate Britain with such a resonant and effecting soundwork. Tate Britain is committed to showcasing new work by contemporary British artists, but it is particularly timely to be able to present this project during the First World War centenary commemorations.”

Philipsz is best known for her immersive sound environments, often making use of recordings of her own voice. Born in 1965 in Glasgow, she currently lives and works in Berlin. She won the Turner Prize in 2010 and is represented in several major museum collections, including Tate and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Susan Philipsz, War Damaged Musical Instruments, until 3 April, Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG.

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1. Klappenhorn (ruin). Collection Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin.