I See a Darkness

Lucia Joyce

Lucia Joyce, Paris, 1924 Photograph Berenice Abbott

Santa Lucia Beccafumi

Santa Lucia, 1521 Domenico di Pace Beccafumi


Susan Philipsz, I See a Darkness, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York


Caruso sings Santa Lucia with views of Naples by the Lumière brothers


Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, I See A Darkness (Glasgow version), Drag City



Jarla Partilager, Stockholm, 2008.
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery,
New York, 2010. Five-channel
sound installation. 8 minutes,
30 seconds.

I See A Darkness

The exhibition I See A Darkness was initially conceived for Jarla Partilager in Stockholm. When I went to Stockholm to talk about the show we decided to schedule the exhibition for 13th December to coincide with the Santa Lucia festival that is celebrated all over Sweden. The festival takes place on one of the darkest days in the calendar and celebrates the coming of the light. This work tells the story of two Lucia’s: Santa Lucia and James Joyce’s daughter Lucia Joyce. The name Lucia means ‘light’. Santa Lucia came from Syracuse in Sicily. She was the patron saint of light and she has always been described as having beautiful eyes. Legend has it after one admirer complimented her eyes she cut them out and sent them to him. The legend concludes with her eyes being restored but she is frequently depicted holding her eyes on a platter. Lucia Joyce, however, inherited her eyes from her mother’s side of the family. Nora Barnacle’s sister Peg had a strong cast in one eye. Lucia was named by her father who’s own eyesight was failing rapidly. I was surprised to discover that he frequently refers to her in his work. She was to become his muse and was always under his watchful eye. Lucia took after her father; she loved to dance as much as Joyce loved to sing and it seemed that she was destined for great things. However, the more I read about Lucia Joyce the more I began to realise what a tragedy her life was. Lucia Joyce found that her own needs were to be sacrificed for the sake of her fathers work. The family moved continually and in doing so uprooted Lucia’s sense of herself. Santa Lucia will always represent light however Lucia Joyce’s story is one of a bright light slipping into obscurity and darkness.

I See a Darkness begins with a call and response duet, from the song of the same name written by Will Oldham. A single speaker is mounted on a white plinth in the first space. The response can be heard in the distance from the furthest point of the gallery. Following this a recording of me picking out the tune of Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a dead Princess) by Ravel on a piano can be heard. Lucia Joyce danced to this tune as a teenager when she was a dancer with Les Six de rythme et couleur. The final piece will be a four-speaker installation of my voice singing the Neapolitan barcarolle Santa Lucia. The lyrics “My home is far away/ For you I’m yearning/ Longing to greet the day/ Of my returning” and “I hear you calling me/ your voice enthralling me” allude to feelings of separation and longing and echo the story of the later years of Lucia Joyce when she longed to return to her father. After this song the recording loops and the audience can hear the song cycle again from a different perspective.