Giving Voice to Space
This week we continue to explore works of art that are derived from or inspired by the written word in conjunction with the special exhibition R. B. Kitaj: Don’t Listen to the Fools. Unlike many works that we have featured on this blog, the work of Susan Philipsz (Scottish, born 1965) is more auditory than visual. While some artists sculpt with materials such as bronze, wood, or marble, Philipsz sculpts with sound, using her delicate voice to carve out hauntingly lyrical renditions of songs that transform both interior and exterior spaces.
The River Cycle, 2012, is a site-specific sound installation created for the Albright-Knox’s auditorium. The work is based on the character Anna Livia Plurabelle from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (Irish, 1882–1941). Philipsz worked closely with the University at Buffalo’s Poetry Collection and the James Joyce archives to develop the work’s concept. In Joyce’s text, Plurabelle embodies the metaphor of the river, specifically the River Liffey (“Livia” is a phonetic riff on “Liffey” and “Anna” is derived from the Irish word for river). Joyce made a recording of himself reading the text aloud; Hazel Feldman later reinterpreted the recording as a musical score, which Philipsz used to create this instrumental sound installation. The site-specificity of the piece relates not only to the Joyce archives at UB, but to Buffalo’s rich history with Niagara Falls. The work also responds to the glass box auditorium where it resides (pictured above), and to the trees and foliage visible from it when the curtains are open.