The Art of Listening

Documenta At Kassel Hauptbahnhof Susan Philipsz’s audio installation continues her practice of transforming the experience of a place through sound

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Kassel train station, where you can hear Susan Philipsz’s work for dOCUMENTA (13)
Kassel train station, where you can hear Susan Philipsz’s work for dOCUMENTA (13)

Foto: Iain Pate

Built for much more use than it sees now, the far end of Platform 9 is a semi-abandoned, contemplative space. A short musical recording plays intermittently. Pavel Haas wrote Study for Strings in 1943 whilst held in the camp at Terezin before transportation to Auschwitz. The original scores were lost in the camp but reconstructed afterwards. What remains is a fragmented one-movement work that utilises minor chords and augmented intervals to powerful, moving effect. Philipsz presents here a reworking for strings via seven loudspeakers spread out around the rail yard, all directed inwards towards the listener on the end of the platform. The view towards the sound's source, away from the station, looks out to the mountains beyond.

The exhibition catalogue presents a history of the location, “just north of the station are the manufacturing halls of … one of the most important suppliers of armaments during World War II. Also on this spot, three major transports were organised … to deport remaining Jewish families to concentration camps, including Terezin.”

This is one of a number of location-specific works in dOCUMENTA [13] that successfully engage with the area’s history. There may appear to be a simplicity in formulating a connection between a site such as this and a well-researched historical note. Philipsz’s skill is in the selection and balancing of elements; the telling of this personal narrative through music – gesture enough towards the larger history – executed with a sensitivity to how her audience will experience the work in that particular place.

Lesen Sie auch Iain Pates Beitrag im Artikel „Kasseler Schnittchen“ über Ana Prvackis Arbeit „Greeting Commitee“.

Iain Pate is a freelance producer and curator based in London. He has produced live events, exhibitions, and site-specific works with AV Festival, Forma Arts and Media, and Dundee Contemporary Arts. He is currently Director of Modern Empire, a UK based print publisher.

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