Another exhibition I’ve never seen

Unseen shows are top of mind for me as Liesbeth and I confer on how our Objectspace work will look.

In Current obsessions 2 I write about exhibitions that I haven’t seen but, through description by others, are fixed in my memory as if I experienced them first-hand.

Here’s a gem that Liesbeth and I both recently missed at Tate Britain.

Again, it is not jewellery…but it does exude jewelleryness: Susan Philipsz: War-Damaged Musical Instruments

Bild-5-Lands_0 (1)Klappenhorn (keyed bugle) Ruin.
Salvaged from the Alte Münz bunker, Berlin 1945. 
In the collection of the Musikinstrumenten-Museum, Berlin
Photograph: Collection Musikinstrumenten-Museum, Berlin

Grab a coffee and spend 2 minutes with these excerpts from the curatorial essay by Dr Linda Schädler.


Walking through the Duveen Galleries today is like traversing history and time.

Although the space has not been altered visually in a way that we would easily notice, we feel immediately that something has clearly been changed. It is the recorded sound coming in turn from various loudspeakers suspended from the ceiling.


The tones are reverberating in the large galleries, moving and shifting through different parts of the exhibition halls like a perpetual echo of bygone times.

We are drawn to follow these hesitant and faltering sounds, to go from one loudspeaker to the other, to come back and to stand still – half hoping to succeed in recombining the single notes we hear into a familiar melody. In vain.

Susan PHILIPSZ horiz_02

For some years, Internationally renowned Turner Prize winning artist Susan Philipsz has been looking for historical brass and wind instruments that were damaged during times of conflict, but have since then been preserved in museum collections in Britain or Germany.


Flute in C, Rosewood. Rings and valves in silver, head in ivory. B valve ruined. Made by Heinrich Friedrich Meyer, Handover, before 1897

Each of them represents a tragic story, sometimes forgotten over time, sometimes still remembered.

Bild-9-LandsTrumpet in E 1700-1800

It is known to this day, for example, that one of the bugles Philipsz came across was recovered beside the body of a fourteen-year-old drummer after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, or that several instruments were found after clearing out a civilian bunker in Berlin at the end of Second World War.

Bild-10-LandsSilvered brass alto saxophone in E sharp. Only the bell with two valves is preserved



All these instruments bear traces of damage: bullet holes, dents or missing parts.



Philipsz asked musicians to try carefully to play these instruments. Sometimes it worked, but more often than not it was virtually impossible to coax tones out of them (hence the hesitant and faltering quality of the recorded sound).


Sometimes, there is no sound at all, and the breath of the musicians is the only thing that can be heard. The human is present through the breath exhaled through the instruments.


As the sound alternates through the exhibition spaces, it becomes a resonance chamber, echoing through the museum galleries.

The song… is The Last Post, a well-known military call signalling to soldiers wounded or separated on the battlefield that the combat is over. It provides a sound for them to follow in order to find safety and rest.

Beautiful, no?

The human is present through the breath exhaled through the instruments.

Bam! Jewelleryness, right there.  

And possibly the most beautiful show I have never seen…

Read the whole of the essay here.



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