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Lowlands - Susan Philipsz’ Turner Prize Win

The Turner Prize is an annual art event which draws art works and installations which tread the borders of a traditional understanding of the medium. The Prize was set up in memory of Turner the painter, but nominations incorporate art in the widest sense. It attracts art which is unusual, sometimes at the forefront of what might be considered tasteful – artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst have benefited from the notoriety entering the Turner Prize has given them.

Susan Philipsz, 2010 Turner Prize Winner, was born in Scotland and now lives in Berlin. Her “Lowlands” is the first sound installation has won the Turner Prize. It is a haunting work, with the artist singing different versions of the sixteenth century Scottish song “Lowlands Away”. The song tells of a woman’s dream of her dead lover who drowned at sea. He speaks to her of his death, tells her of his regrets that they will never be wed. He is wet and dank and dressed with the green weeds of the sea that took his life. The song finishes with an acknowledgement that John is dead and gone:

“Lowlands, lowlands, away my John,
For now I knew my love was dead,
My lowlands away
My love is drowned in the windy lowlands,
Lowlands, lowlands, away my John,
My love is drowned in the windy lowlands,
My lowlands away”.

Susan Philipsz’ version of Lowlands Away captures and carries the haunting, melodic quality of the song. Key words and themes are repeated over and over. Water, echoes and other background sounds augment the richness and depth of the recording.

I like the juxtaposition of modern and ancient in this work which uses modern recording techniques to tell a story which echoes through the ages of a love lost at sea. The version I watched and listened to was filmed in Glasgow, with images of bridges and water, of traffic and people, of animals serenely floating the waters. I found the song and images stayed with me long after it had finished playing. See below for a link to this recording on Susan Philipsz’ webstite – click on the “play” arrow on the second box down on the right hand side to listen to the recording.

Susan Philipsz’ work has been installed both under bridges in the River Clyde, Glasgow and in an empty room in Tate Modern, London. Watch and listen, and see what you think for yourself of this unique blend of old song and modern artistry.

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