SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

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May 6, 2011

Voice of history

Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz uses sound to put museum collection in context

(Continued)

The instrumentation features plaintive notes coaxed from the rim of a glass and is meant to evoke an abandoned ship, creaking as it sails through ice-bound seas, according to Philipsz.

"It's very atmospheric," she said.

Giving voice to the collection

Philipsz started her career as a sculptor, but found her art taking a detour after she started singing in a band, which made her aware of how her voice interacts with space, both inner and outer.

"I became interested in the spatial values of sound, so it became sound sculpture in a way," Philipsz said. "Sound can draw attention to a place, and it can create a new meaning."

If the historical associations of the ballad to the Peabody Essex collection helped Philipsz choose it, visitors to the hall will be led back to them by the sound of her voice, reaching into the space and breaking like waves.

"This is at the ground of what contemporary artists do today," said Trevor Smith, curator of contemporary art at the museum, who inaugurated the new Freeport series in which Philipsz is appearing.

Because Philipsz's sound works are immaterial, they can't be installed in their own space. Instead, they work among objects the museum already contains, Smith explained.

Just like the Salem sea captains, transporting objects from around the globe and from one culture to another, Philipsz's song sets the collection in motion by altering its setting and the way visitors experience it, Smith said.

"If you think about the museum as a world in miniature, you can travel to China," Smith said. "But one thing we're all trying to figure out is, what do these things have to do with one another?"

Philipsz's installation, by giving voice to the collection, "transforms it, transports it, puts it in a new context, in a dialogue," both with other objects and with visitors, Smith said.

Staff writer Will Broaddus can be reached at wbroaddus@salemnews.com.

If you go

What: "If I with you would go," sound installation by Susan Philipsz

Where: Peabody Essex Museum, 161 Essex St., East India Square, Salem

When: Tomorrow through October

More information: www.pem.org

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