Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller

Janet Cardiff explores emotions, memory, intimacy, and the private realm of talking-listening. Although trained as a visual artist in Canada in the late 1980s, Cardiff takes as her primary focus sound and the relationship between hearing and the other senses. The artist has been creating site-specific “audiowalks” and installations since the early 1990s. In her interactive artworks, viewers are asked to touch, listen to, and often move through an environment that is shaped both by our perceptions of reality and by the artist’s manipulation of those perceptions through references to narrative and the collective memory of film.
Her works, including her collaborations with artist George Bures Miller, constantly shift between fact and fiction, between the experience of reality and our projections, fantasies, and personal desires.
In these works, the visitor experiences a constructed landscape of sound by donning headphones and listening to an audiotape that has been recorded using a binaural technique in the same location, at another time. Cardiff’s voice is featured prominently, layered with snippets from movies or songs and other sounds.
The Paradise Institute, 2001, is a collaboration between Cardiff and Bures Miller—their most ambitious installation to date. Created for the Canadian Pavilion at the 49th Venice Biennale, where it won a prize, this immersive environment consists of a wooden structure that viewers are invited to enter. Inside, a balcony space with seventeen seats overlooks a balustrade onto a “hyper-perspectival” theater with a screen, suggestive of an old movie house.
The Paradise Institute combines sculpture, performance, video, and sound. Present and past overlap, and open up onto intimations of the future. Once inside this model movie theater, the visitor puts on headphones and watches a thirteen-minute black-and-white video that simulates a film.
The narrative on the screen is open-ended and ambiguous: a man is strapped to a bed in an institution of confinement; a young woman, perhaps a nurse, attempts to save him from imminent disaster; a third character plays the role of the “bad guy” in this fragmented thriller that borders on science fiction. The visitor slips constantly between what occurs as events on the screen and what seems to be occurring in the minds of the characters. The soundtrack of the “movie” blends with other recorded sounds of things that seem happening around the visitor, in the space where he or she is seated, so that fiction and apparent reality blend and overlap.
This work explores the complexity and changing nature of subjectivity in a technological world, as well as our continual need to negotiate between presence and loss of self, memory and experience, sensation and imagination.