Australian art collector and “the guy who owns MONA”, David Walsh, despite not being here in person has been a buyer at Art Basel. The French curator, Olivier Varenne, who buys for David has acquired Two Sisters by Susan Phillipz, which we can probably expect to be at MONA at some point. For our international readers, MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art that just opened earlier this year in Tasmania, Australia. An incredible museum, or more like “un-museum”, where cutting edge contemporary art is shown alongside ancient artifacts, like Egyptian mummies.
Anyway back to the topic at hand, Susan Phillipsz is a Turner Prize winner and made Two Sisters for Ellen de Bruijne Projects in Amsterdam back in 2009. It consists of a two channel sound installation with voice and a part with surround sound with violins. The story of Two Sisters tells the story of two siblings who fell in love with the same man with tragic results, touching on themes of repetition, loss and memory.
The voice part is of the centuries old ballad called The Wind and the Rain. The ballad is about one sister drowning the other in jealous rage as a result of the love triangle. The river carries the dead sister’s drowned body until a fiddler comes across her remains. Her bones and hair are made into a fiddle, but the fiddle can only play one song, The Wind and the Rain. Many versions of this ballad exist but the key story remains the same.
Phillipsz’ sound installation plays two versions of the song from two separate speakers simultaneously. One version is sung in third person and the other in first person, taking on the role of the drowned sister. Some of the lines are identical, so even if the two versions muddle at some sections of the song, they come back together perfectly for those identical lines. Quite creepy. While these voice parts are playing, a violin accompanies the background.
This is very David Walsh, I think. The work being comprised of only speakers and nothing visual has so many possibilities for its installation. I am interested to see how this will be presented at MONA, and from what I have seen so far I don’t think I will be disappointed!