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Susan Philipsz

Helsinki Central Railway Station, Helsinki, Finland


Susan Philipsz, When Day Closes (2010). Photo: Leif Rosnell

Helsinki Central Railway Station has been under a lot of pressure in the last five months. First, in November, flooding from a burst water main (apparently due to sabotage) destroyed the central metro station’s platform, which is still under construction. Then, in January, a two-storey InterCity train carriage charged through the end of a railway platform, crashing into the wall of the station’s Holiday Inn and then jumping into a conference room on the second floor. During the remainder of the winter, train traffic has suffered from the heaviest snow in three decades, leaving unhappy travellers waiting for cancelled trains for days. The tension at the station hasn’t eased.

Susan Philipsz’ work When Day Closes for IHME 2010, an annual event for contemporary art organized by Pro Arte Foundation Finland, could not have been located in a more timely, public context. Her investigation of the spatial and sculptural qualities of sound is installed in the Main Hall of the Central Railway Station, where Eliel Saarinen’s architecture presents major challenges to the acoustics. Philipsz is interested in the themes of loss and longing in the 19th-century Finnish Tuonela lullabies, which are meant to accompany a baby on its way to the land of the dead. The transitory moment of falling asleep and the moment of death were associated with these lullabies, which share the loss of the mother and her hope for a better life for her child beyond.
While doing the background research for When Day Closes, Philipsz selected two compositions from classic horror films, a lullaby from Robin Hardy’s cult film The Wicker Man (1972) and a lullaby from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968). She broadcast this preparatory project on the television station YLE Teema every evening after the end of programming for two weeks during September and October 2009.

For the actual public work at the Central Railway Station Philipsz chose The Song of My Heart (Sydämeni laulu, 1870), composed by Jean Sibelius to a poem by Aleksis Kivi, the author of the first novel in the Finnish language. Here again Philipsz investigates the psychological effects of a song and the way music can evoke immediate reactions and impressions. According to Philipsz, her rendition of Song of My Heart utilizes the high vaulted ellipsoid ceiling of the Main Hall of the Station. By projecting sound upwards into the domed ceiling, her voice travels around the curve, falling on the other side, accompanying people as they pass by. She performs the song a cappella, creating, in her own words, a ‘whispering gallery’ effect.

With The Song of My Heart Philipsz brings a realm of private and domestic into the daily commute, contrasting the intimacy of the lullaby with the daily rush of the most traversed public building in Finland. She succeeds in transforming a song from the past into the present by creating an intimate space that is defined by coincidence and yet based on a national tradition. In doing so, she focuses attention on the listeners’ spatial perception of themselves, allowing us to be drawn into the complexity of the simple and overlooked.

Aura Seikkula


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About this review

Published on 01/04/10
by Aura Seikkula

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