Susan Philipsz’s The Lost Reflection, 2007, is a sound installation under the Tormin Bridge (Torminbruecke) on Lake Aa that was commissioned by the Munster Sculpture Project 07. It was one of the most outstanding contributions to the 2007 Sculpture Project. The fact that another sound work by Suchan Kinochita, was also outstanding indicates that sculptural installation is beginning to lose its grip after over fifteen years of sharing aesthetic ascendancy with video art. Some of the weakest pieces in Munster this year were fag ends of endless sculptural installation variations on the Readymade theme.
Sound sculpture is a new medium and perhaps that’s what we need to escape what I have referred to elsewhere as the Documenta 12 effect. The more one examines the problems facing fine art at the turn of the millennium the more one is drawn to the promise of nascent new media.
One of the most attractive features of Philipsz’s The Lost Reflection was the simple fact that it was beautiful. This was especially the case if one had reached it after seeing Annette Wehrmann’s Aaspa: Wellness am See (AaSpa Wellness by the Lake) which was yet another addition to the approximately infinite variations on the Readymade theme. The inflated, empty theatricalism supplied by Wehrmann contrasted with the elegant simplicity of Philipsz’ contribution.
As it is a sound work you will need to view a video I made (VIDEO click here).
In the Munster Sculpture Project 07 catalogue Philipsz provides us with intelligent insight into the creative process she underwent in conceiving the work:
There is a famous barcarole in The Tales of Hoffmann, an opera written by the German composer, Jacques Offenbach, that I learned at school. All I knew about it then was that it was a duet where each person seemed to call to the other across the water. It was only after making site visits to Munster that the song started to come back to me. (Philipsz 2007)
She explains that the exhibition organisers gave her a map and the use of a bicycle, and cycling along the promenade she became interested in Lake Aa (Aasee) an artificial lake constructed just outside the city centre. Philipsz then explains the concept of mirroring that occurred to her for the piece:
The barcarole features in the opening a scene of “The Tale of Giulietta”, a story about how the courtesan Giulietta steals Hoffmann’s reflection from the enchanted mirror and therefore captures his soul. There’s a great film adaptation by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger where Giulietta’s reflection takes on a life of its own and begins to sing the barcarole to her embodied form. The set design is deliberately artificial and stylized. Her gondola moves through deliberately artificial canals, while Hoffmann looks on from a nearby bridge. (Philipsz 2007)
When she cycled under the Tormin Bridge (Torminbruecke) that crosses Lake Aa “everything seemed to fall into place” (Philipsz 2007). She liked the darkness under the bridge and the way that sounds echoed underneath its gigantic concrete spans. She recollected that the opera was based on the tales of E.T.A Hoffmann who is “known for his writings on doppelgangers and the uncanny, stories that mix the banal details of everyday life with its dark underside” (Philipsz 2007); siting her work under the bridge seemed to fit.
The result is certainly powerful due, in part, to the contrast between the urban ugliness of the concrete bridge and its incessant traffic noise and the beauty of the amplified baracarole that cuts throught the ambient noise and echoes to and fro on one side to the other of the banks of Lake Aa. This was a beautiful experience under the dark bridge that turned one’s attention more to the rippling waters than to the urban monstrosity one was standing under. One can draw a parallel with Valérie Jouve’ contribution to the Sculpture Project (artintelligence) which enlivened the darkness of a pedestrian underpass in the city centre. Both works represent positive and successful artistic engagements with everyday life.
Philipsz, Susan. 2007. Exhibition catalogue text. In Sculpture Project Munster 07 (English version), edited by Brigitte Franzen, Kasper Koenig, Carina Plath. Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, p. 197.