The room is dimly lit. The only light comes from a small van right in the middle of the gallery. I can hear music from two megaphones on top of the vehicle. There is a guitar, a drum, and a soft voice. Inside the van, there are hundreds of marionettes that dance and write. Everyone seems to have stepped into an in-between state of fiction and reality. There is also a body. A replica of Janet Cardiff seems to be in a heavy slumber while the music becomes louder. It is through pieces like this one, huge installations with exceptional sound design, that Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller show their deeply rooted interest in storytelling.
The Marionette Maker (2014) was the welcoming installation at Janet Cardiff’s and George Bures Miller’s first exhibition in Mexico. Simply titled, Cardiff & Miller, it took place at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MARCO) in the northern city of Monterrey. They are both Canadian artists whose work is known for being closely related to film, literature, and theater. They create installations that incorporate sound, video, lights, sculpture. The technological aspect of their art is essential. Through automation, each piece is defined by a temporal frame that creates experiences with a start and end.
Cardiff and Miller collaborate since they were students. Throughout their career, they have experimented with using sound to create environments that are anchored in memory. Each piece exists within its own universe. The Killing Machine (2007) inspired by Kafka’s In the Penal Colony and the American system of capital punishment, tells a story of society’s indifference towards killing. We see a chair draped with a pink tapestry and the robotic arms that attack the invisible person sitting there as the story is amplified and made immersive by an off-tune violin, eerie metallic sounds, and white noise.
The Murder of Crows (2008) is a 98-speaker installation that explores the narrative aspect of their art. Janet’s voice comes from a speaker in the middle of the room while the audience sits down. Janet narrates a series of disturbing dreams, each accompanied by sound effects, effectively inviting the audience to feel part of it. There is a severed leg beneath sheets and an army along the sound of marching. One of their newest pieces is Sync No Sync (2017). Made up of a video and three audio recordings, the installation shows the artists discussing their ideas for a new piece. As the video is projected, three tracks of audio come in and out of the speakers showing an insight into their collaborative process.
Their use of binaural sound adds a layer that acts as a catalyst for an experience that is immersive and multidimensional. Cardiff and Miller are storytellers in the way that each piece included in the exhibition evokes a feeling of being in a specific moment of a story in a world that isn’t completely similar to ours. Their art allows spectators to just “get it” even if they don’t know the whole story. The fragment presented completely allows the viewer to fill in the gaps with their own memories.
Interested in more art reviews? Tomás Saraceno: architecture, insects, and the universe