Melancholy musical sounds permeate the main galleries, adding a haunting sound to the historic portraits by artists such as Antony van Dyke, the Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Henry Moore’s stone and bronze sculptures, David Hockney’s double-portrait paintings and sculptures by Jacob Epstein and Anthony Caro. The building prevents the sound reaching its furthest corners, so the room with Tracy Emin’s bed and Francis’s Bacon’s paintings is quiet, as are the galleries full of Turner’s great paintings, though perhaps the musical sounds would have complimented much of his work.
In the Duveen Galleries which run through the central axis of Tate Britain, Susan Philipsz has installed an artwork as part of the 1914-1918 art programme which plays sounds played from 14 brass and woodwind instruments damaged by war over the last 200 years, focussed on the “Last Post”, the bugle call that is played at almost every remembrance service in recognition of all those who gave their lives for their country, but which is almost unrecognisable due to the damage the instruments have sustained.
While the best place to experience Susan’s work War Damaged Musical Instruments is in the adjacent galleries, standing in the Duveen galleries is also a unique experience as the musical sounds move from one loud-speaker to another. These immense classical galleries are empty of anything apart from the speakers projecting the musical notes, which evokes the quiet atmosphere of a mausoleum and raises questions about the futility of war.
Susan Philipsz is perhaps uniquely placed to create such a work as her life bridges across from Britain to Germany, having been born in Glasgow, Scotland and now living in Berlin, Germany.
(Photographs of musical instruments from Tate Britain and Collection Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin).