The first mid-career comprehensive survey
of the work of Canadian artist Janet Cardiff:Ý Exhibitions; Installations and
Process, took place October 14, 2001,January 20, 2002
at P. S. 1. Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev,
the show brings together Cardiffís major installations: The
Dark Pool (1996), To Touch (1993), Playhouse, (1997),
The Muriel Lake Incident (1999), and Forty-Part
Motet (2001). Each installation was housed in a chamber
off a long corridor. At one end, a documentation room was created
with carrels for visitors to peruse illustrated catalogues
or to listen to the corresponding audio and video Walks.
An onsite Walk was also created especially for PS1.
In each Walk, visitors, listening through headphones
of a CD Walkman or looking through the viewfinder of a camcorder,
follow the artistís binaurally recorded directions, while becoming
involved in the story embedded in Cardiffís telling. Voices,
footsteps, music, the sounds of cars and gunshots, all make
up the octagonal soundtrack of an actual walk through real
indoor or outdoor spaces. Cardiffís works take the conventions
of cinema, sculpture, installations and science-fiction as
a starting-point to explore the complexity of subjectivity
in todayís highly technological world. Cardiff was born in
Brussels, Ontario in 1957, lives and works in Lethbridge, Alberta,
Canada and currently, in Berlin. She and her husband and partner, George Bures Miller represented Canada
at the 2001 Venice Biennale, with their 17-seat pseudo-cinema
installation,Ý The Paradise Institute.
CT: The Dark
Pool, was originally presented in Canada in 1995
The installation, looks like some abandoned junk shop
is ﬁlled with a cacophony of furniture, carpets,
books, empty dishes, and mechanical paraphernalia. What
was your inspiration ?
was George and my ﬁrst major collaboration. Our studio looked quite
messy, very much like this and because we were pretty sick
of the aesthetic of clean minimal art happening in Canada at
that time, it seemed right to move in this direction.Ý Perhaps
the work also evolved as a side-product of starting to use
the Internet and thinking in hypertext. In the piece there
are scientific textbooks that relate to different time periods,
encyclopedias from 1930ís containing information that is no
longer true, fiction books, wacky objects, personal stories
and other things. We were imagining The Dark Pool, a
metaphor for the brain, as a place you go into that clicks
on memories from different places--like in Borgesí looping
stories and magical places. Itís also as if two scientists
were working here and one day they closed the door and left..Ý Yes,
itís about George and myself and all the inexplicable activity
that goes on in science and art and in relationships. Making
art is totally inexplicable.Ý In the same way the pool of water
in The Dark Pool, deﬁes all scientific laws:
if you stick your hand in, it will disappear.Ý A feather doesnít ﬂoat
on it-- and then one day, the pool itself disappears.
there sound in the piece?
triggered by your shadow. As you walk around, different sounds
are coming from these funny 1950ís horns, or from this
paper cup attached by a string to a hidden speaker. There
look of old antiques here but there are also modern speakers
that permit different timeframes to enter the dialogue.
CT: Ý This
also seems like the backstage of a theater or behind the curtain
of our vision--inside the brain--filled with secrets, tricks,
memories. Perhaps itís also a reaction to computer technology.
JC: Itís deﬁnitely
a comment on technology and obsolescence. There are pieces
of oldÝ technical equipment under the tables, old radios, for
one. Here is a map of the world drawn by Andrea Bianca in 1436
and there, books on physiognomy. Weíre still producing all
this stuff-- these outdated ideologies--we just donít realize
a diaristic strategy, one that may also evolve over time--like
a work in progress. But it is different from your other
is the ﬁrst
major piece on which we collaborated, where we learned to work
together. George likes to build things and I like to conceptualize
more, normally. But In The Dark Pool, itís hard to tell
who did what-- we both were very involved in everything.Ý Here
is a line of poetry that I pieced together from words cut out
of books that came originally from a note George left me one
day.Ý It says, ìI love you like a straitjacket. ì
îThe Dark Pool came at a time before George and I started
to show internationally, when we had a bit more time than we
do now, and it has evolved over its ﬁrst
twoÝ exhibitions.Ý First, there were just a few tables, and
then it grew into a room. It was pretty much in this state
when shown in New York a few years ago. For this show
we just upgraded the technology; it used to be on cassette
tapes and now itís on CD players.Ý
work reminds me of Kienholzís tableaux-, without characters.
Here we becomeÝ players;Ý in a Kienholz, we are voyeurs.
JC: Thatís a good reference.
George once loved Kienholzís workóthe way he envelopes you
in his wierd environments. But my work was more about the cubist
narrative of layering.Ý For example, in 1992 I did Whispering
Room, a cubist narrative piece that you could walk through.
It had 16‚20 bare speakers, and was similar, in that respect,
to Forty-Part Motet.
did your use of sound develop?
the work evolves naturallyópartially from an interest in
narrative and memory. Using sound effects as device is more ﬂuid
than writing stuff on the wall. Also, George was in art college
in Toronto where he had access to technology, sound, computers, ﬁlm
and video. It was right after grad school, 1983‚4-- when
we did a couple of Super-8 ﬁlms. One was quite complex
and had actors. It was a 50-minute feature ﬁlm which
we cut and transferred to video.
Motet skillfully combines the languages of music and
sculpture with contemporary communications technology,
profoundly altering our perception of the space. It is
a 40-track audio installation that reworks of Spem in
Alium Nunquam Habui (I Have Never Had Hope in Another),
composed by Thomas Tallis in 1575
all this work, the effect is to alter the prior sense of
the space one inhabits
so that the visitor becomes an active participant in a performance.
CT: In Forty-Part
Motet the room is empty except for the speakers, and
it functions between intimacy and free will. Although circumscribed,
weíre not instructed by your narrative:Ý we donít need earphones
and can determine our own path in our own time. Aside from
this, the work spiritualizes the space. Particularly now,
after the World Trade Center disaster, experiencing the work
is extremely powerful. The sacred music was composed to be
heard in a cathedral but here, instead of stained glass,
you peer out into the mottled city to ponder its meaning,
memory and pathos.
JC: Yes, you can see the city. You look
out the windows, see the train passing, and the music makes
it all so poignant.
Its ﬁrst venue was a mock-reconstructed chapel a religious
setting. Many people thought it was ideal but I prefer it here
because what I was interested in was the structure of the sound,
the abstract nature of the composition and how it moves around
the room. The composer was so brilliant working with space;
he was like a conceptual sculptor moving the voices around
and back and forth.Ý A theory that I came across in my research
says that the music was possibly designed to be heard in a
small church that had eight different alcoves and a choir placed
in each alcove. This reinfiorced my idea of placing the speakers
in an oval configuration.
did you come across the music?
singer I worked with in England recognized my interest in
sound and said, Youíve got to hear this piece, it has forty
different harmonies. I couldnít imagine such a thing. Then
I heard it--and some of these old harmonies wereÝ modern and
discordant, like Schoenberg.
invited you to do this work?
Berne, who9 produces artworks through her London based company,Ý Field,
invited me to make an artwork for a festival .Ý I told her
about this piece and then she raised the funds for it. She
organized the recording session, the hall, the singers, everything.
(We worked with half professional singers and the Salisbury
Choir, where the sopranos are children boys and girls.)
me more about the workís evolution.
had this idea; I didnít know if it would work. Theresa got the choir together
and we recorded. By this time, weíd already spent a lot of
money; it was an amazing recording session; we had a mobile
recording unit with professional engineers, and all the 60
singers were wired with their own microphone and recorded onto
different tracks. There were 4 conductors coordinating the
singers.Ý It wasnít until it was shown in
Ottawa at the National Gallery that I finally heard it on forty
speakers. At ﬁrst it didnít work because there was cross-talk;
the echo from the singers on the left could be heard on the
right, and it didnít have the three dimensional effect Iíd
hoped for. I was feeling pretty depressed at that point thinking
that it hadnít worked. Then George edited out the background
noise from the tracks when they were not singing and voila!
it became exactly as Iíd envisioned. We spent $70,000 in equipment plus engineers, editing and such without
even hearing it, a bit crazy, no?
of old and newer forms of technology; in Motet, thereís
both contrast andÝ conceptual symbiosis.
itís now a virtual choir singing a 16th century
one does the same piece in different places, the architecture
and mood are in play, and the work takes on a different character
JC: Itís true. This work
has been installed in a castle keep, an old ruin, the cloister
inÝ Salisbury Cathedral, in
a reconstructed chapel in Ottawa, a factory, and here at PS1.
Each time it has different connotations.
you describe how the space in the cloister of the Salisbury
Cathedral determined the positioning?
It was twice as wide as this hallway, about 3 meters, so
we separated the
speakers up one side and down the other and then it opened
into an interior garden. It had a religiosity combined with
an ëopen airí casualness and because the voice disappears out
of doors, there was a real acoustical problem. One of the ideas
behind the piece is that it can be reconﬁgured in different
ways, and thus, it changes in different spaces.Ý The
work will show all over the world-- there are no language considerations.
The ﬁdelity of the music however,Ý is most important:
playing from two 24-track hard drives that have 24-bit sound
a higher quality than CD.Ý Itís closer to the human voice.
I tried to document it by taking my binaural head, my
three-dimensional head, thinking there would be some way to
document this experience. But it sounded like crap. Once you
bring in only two speakers, it gets lost. Itís ﬁnally
about the reverberations and sound waves hitting you from many
directions.Ý (Binaural sound means recording what each ear
hears separately with two small microphones in the ears of
a dummy head.
they purchased or loaned?
is an edition of three, now in the collections of the MOMA,
The National Gallery of Canada and the TATE Modern.This one
on load as PS1
CT: Weíve moved into the documentation room now. This room,
configured like a library of carrels where the visitor sits,
don headphones and peruses the documents of six different Site-speciﬁc Walks: Walk
Munster (1997), Villa Medici Walk (Rome 1998,) DroganísÝ Nightmare (Sao
Paolo 1998) In Real Time (Pittsburgh, 1999) The Missing
Voice ( A Case Study B) London, 1999, The Telephone
Call (San Fransisco, 2001.) and Louisiana Walk #14Ý (Louisiana
Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, 1996.)
youíre on these walks, one is quite aware of the authority
of your directions.
an entire subtext of how we react to authority voices instructing
us--and how our body reacts to the intimacy of the other layered
on top. And that you become partially a cyborg when walking.
donít understand the cyborg aspect.
me the CD becomes an extension of the walker. The termÝ ëCyborgí is
from a William Gibson novel, Neuromancer, in which he coind the term Cyberspace.
interpretation I understand for the ëCyborgí is that the physical
body becomes mechanized, robot-like, but the mind is autonomous;
retaining our unique memories,Ý history, free will and individuality.
my interpretation is that Cyborgs are part machine, part
human; at least thatísÝ from
reading cyber-punk novels.
I went through your walks, their controlling nature made me
hesitant. The ﬁrst time I participated in M¸nster in
1997, I was annoyed to have my path prescribed. But since then,
IíveÝ become more compliant.
Europe the issue of manipulation doesnít get raised, but
in North America it does, and part of it is that weíre so
aware of our own freedom here. Freedom is such a big thing
in North America. In Canada weíre accustomed to looking
at society and analyzing and deconstructing the different
that control us.
many European societies particularly in the Eastern European
countries. thereís a history of surveillance and phone taps.Ý In
the United States there are certain illusions of freedom by
comparison ‚ although since 9/11 we are more controlled.
have a really strong opinion about this. Itís kind of superﬁcial
to see this form of direction as manipulation. Everything
in our culture is about manipulation: weíre given sidewalk
signs that say, ìGo thereî; waiting at red lights; looking
at a painting where the painter uses color to direct our
eye; authority ﬁgures give us rules to behave in public
places. Our behavior is always modiﬁed, and that was
one of the subtexts of my walk pieces. Yesóit is a manipulation--but
itís also like a childís game in that you have the freedom
to give up your power, Itís really bout that pleasure,.
CT: ìí Miniaturizationîí has
played a large role in your theatrical scenarios: Muriel
Lake Incident, Playhouse, and The Paradise Institute.
Lake is a miniature, and thereís one also in the Dark
Pool. George has an interest in this. In Muriel
Lake, you look into the space and know youíre not
in a theater, but somehow it plays into the fun aspect
it (same with Playhouse).
like a folk puppet theater using contemporary technology.Ý Some
of your works,Ý are for a single viewer at a time--and often
is more intimate than a puppet theater.
JC:Ý The pieces George
and I do are very much hybrids; they donít necessarily come
out of a visual-art background. They come out of references
to theater and movies, radio pieces, performance work.Ý Weíre
interested in making art that is accessible like entertainment.Ý But
also functions on many levels, , In the art world I thinkÝ thereís
this unspoken rule that art shouldnít be too entertaining or
theatrical.Ý But you must go with what interests you.
question of waiting in queues to see your work created much
ado in Venice.Ý At the press opening, there was a two-hour
waiting line to enter your seventeen-seatÝÝ Paradise Institute.Ý Carolyn
Cristov-Bakargiev, the curator for this P.S.1 exhibition said,ÝÝ This
is a curatorís problem. Itís not the artistís responsibility
to change the art-- curators have to alter institutions to
deal with this kind of work--to ﬁnd a way to accommodate
new art forms. Iím always impressed with curators who are such
voiciferous advocates for the artist!
agree with Carolyn. From the position of the artist, I would
rather not have openings
at all. My pieces cannot be seen at openings, and I canít change
my work for an art-tourism crowd of thousands in Venice. A
large museum in Europe (I wonít mention) had Muriel Lake on
reserve and it was a popular piece. There were always line-ups
to see it.Ý They decided they couldnít buy it because of the
queues.Ý But people wanted to have the experience and they
stayed with it because they enjoyed the immersion. I totally
disagree with the idea of always catering to art tourism some
people just wonít see some of the work. Iíd rather have quality
than quantity. Every artist canít produce art that has a ﬁve-second
CT: But time is
a huge issue today.
JC:Ý Yes, and those that
experience our work get a lot of time back. How many artworks
get an audienceís attention for 15-20 minutes? We
know certain institutions wonít buy that kind of work because
itís difficult for them but Itís so limiting to think this
way.Ý Museums will just have to change.
CT: Ý How
does theÝ artmarketing system function in Canada?
and I didnít
grow up in an art-school environment of a market system.Ý There
is practically no artmarket in Canada. The Canadian Council
will give you money in different ways to produce works that
are installation-based and perhaps wonít ever sell--this gives
the artist a lot of freedom.Ý I think itís why you see so many
media artists coming out of Canada, because our whole system
is different. We arenít as interested in making it into product
because it hasnít been necessary. Where in the U. S.,
thereís a lot more pressure to make art that is commodiﬁed
because of money pressures In art school, having collectors
coming and checking out young artists, and getting them into
galleries right away.Ý This simply doesnít happen in Canada.