To begin an audio walk, visitors are invited to borrow a portable listening device at the gallery's front desk and go for a stroll, guided by Cardiff's recorded voice along a pre-determined path. Her spoken and whispered words are intercut with bits of ambient sound or sound effects recorded in binaural audio. This binaural technique gives the recordings three-dimensional sound and creates a dislocating uncertainty concerning what is recorded "fiction" and what is "reality."
The artist asks visitors to walk with her, to match their steps with hers and to merge their thoughts with her own. Her imperatives ("turn right,""down the steps,""follow me") are necessary and lay the ground for an active course that combines map and memory. The participant listens as Cardiff reinvents a place charged with mythic or symbolic force. (Her walks often take place in gardens, over a few city blocks, or in museums.) She not only provides a geographical map but a map of an inner terrain. Participants follow her steps over various surfaces - over cement, grass, a stone walkway, a bridge, a wood-chip path; down stairs; up a hilly slope - leading them through the site and helping them to navigate the story. The sounds of these textured surfaces dramatize the interrelationship between the inner and outer self and also make apparent physical and mental actions. There is a sense of wonder and shock when events and scenes described on the recording coincidentally happen in the real physical world, as they often do.
Cardiff's walks usually circle around the same themes - memories, displacement and desire. Disconnected thoughts, sounds, conversations and events are strung together in a sequence that suggests suspense and mystery. Cardiff, in effect, creates virtual spaces anchored in reality. She takes her participants to the crossroads of fiction and reality, the actual and the virtual, things remembered and those newly experienced - a place where her words, sounds and visual imagery come together in hypnotic and emotional intensity.
Cardiff often works in collaboration with her husband, George Bures Miller. They represented Canada at the 49th Venice Biennale with "The Paradise Institute" (2001), a 16-seat movie theatre where viewers watched a mystery film and became entangled as witnesses to a possible crime played out in the audience and on the screen. "The Paradise Institute" was a huge success and the artists won La Biennale di Venezia Special Award at Venice, which was presented to Canadian artists for the first time. The couple also won the Benesse prize, an award that recognizes an artist, or group, that tries to break new artistic ground with an experimental and pioneering spirit.
Cardiff's "Forty Part Motet" won the National Gallery of Canada's Millennium Prize in 2001. This installation was a reworking of the renaissance choral music "Spem in Alium" by the English composer Thomas Tallis (1514 - 1585) in which Cardiff recorded 40 separate voices of the Salisbury festival choir and played them back through 40 speakers strategically placed throughout the space. The artist put the gallery visitor in the middle of one of the most complex pieces of choral polyphony ever composed. She created a piece that would allow participants "to climb inside the music" and connect with the disparate voices. As gallery-goers walked around the room they could listen to each of the voices in turn, or to all of them together from the middle of the room.
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller currently live and work in Berlin, Germany. They have recently had exhibitions at the ART GALLERY OF ALBERTA (2010), Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, Germany (2009), The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2008), the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (2007), the Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst, Humlebæk, Denmark and the Cobra Museum voor moderne Kunst, Amstelveen, The Netherlands (2006), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington and the VANCOUVER ART GALLERY (2005), Luhring Augustine, New York (2004), the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati (2003), the ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO and the NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA (2002), and Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Ont (2000). A mid-career retrospective, Janet Cardiff: A Survey of Works, Including Collaborations with George Bures Miller, opened at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, Queens, in 2001 and has travelled to Montréal, Oslo, and Turin.
Author MARNIE FLEMING
Links to Other Sites
Celebrating Women's Achievements
An extensive collection of biographies of women who have made substantial contributions to Canadian culture and society. Also offers teaching guides and reference sources. From Library and Archives Canada.
The Cybermuse website for the multitalented Canadian artist Janet Cardiff.
Inside The Paradise Institute: A conversation with Venice Biennale prize-winner Janet Cardiff
A 2001 interview with Janet Cardiff about her “The Paradise Institute” installation and her opinions of the Canadian art scene. A Canada Council website.