The audio component for Philipsz’s installation is also based on Eisler’s movie scores from the 1920s through 1940s, which the artist deconstructed into separate notes, the way she did in her Study for Strings (2012), created for Documenta 13. Channeled to separate speakers, the pure, plangent, and, at times, dissonant tones of a violin, separated by intervals of silence, emanated from around the room, beckoning and enveloping the spectator.
It is, of course, ironic that Eisler, who escaped a totalitarian regime for refuge in a supposedly democratic one, was later under surveillance, blacklisted as a Communist, interrogated by the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee, and deported. It is a timely work in our uneasy era of increasing concern about balancing individual privacy, personal freedom, and national security. Philipsz, with haunting, often miraculous immediacy, makes us think of that and much more.
A version of this story originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 74.