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Susan Philipsz

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Scottish artist Susan Philipsz, winner of the 2010 Turner Prize, shares the ideas and processes that generated We Shall Be All, a new sound installation that draws from Chicago’s political and labor history. Commissioned for the MCA Collection, it will be presented beginning February 26. Philipsz frames this new piece within the context of her previous work and describes her interest in the sculptural properties of sound and the power of songs. 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 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.

The MCA presents this talk on the occasion of the exhibition of the sound installation We Shall Be All. Philipsz 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.

Buy tickets online at or call the MCA Box Office, 312-397-4010.

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