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What does history sound like?

The sensations associated with experiencing art does not come from sight alone. Some works of art are just as much about hearing as they are about seeing.

Kevin Beasley in his studio. Production still from the New York Close Up film, Kevin Beasley’s Raw Materials, 2019 © Art21, Inc. 2019.

Celebrated for his material-oriented practice, Kevin Beasley juxtaposes sound and sculpture in his practice. For his installation “A view of a landscape,” Beasley placed a mid-20th-century cotton gin motor at the center of the work, evoking an era of intense social change in American history. “Sound is just as physical and tactile as any other material,” says the artist. “It shakes your insides. You feel the vibrations.”

How does sound carry history? What does history sound like?

Susan Philipsz at work in Berlin, 2017. Production still from the Art21 "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 9 episode, "Berlin," 2018. © Art21, Inc. 2018.

Susan Philipsz similarly treats audio as a sculptural object, using historically-resonant sources—like an orchestral work by a composer who was interned in a German concentration camp in the 1940s—to create unexpectedly haunting and lyrical installations. “Sound can really act as a trigger for memory,” says Philipsz, “then can bring you back to a particular place and time.”