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Arts & Culture

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller evoke a sense of trespass

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Installation view


During the 15 years that Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have been in collaboration, sculpture has come into new prominence. Public art has received enhanced status as it continues to morph from plop art to site-specific projects, while gallery sculpture has become interactive, melding with installation and media works. In 1999 Cardiff and Miller constructed The Muriel Lake Incident, a piece that hastened the rupture between the old tradition of sculpture as untouchable object of contemplation, and the new gallery experience.

That work, along with five pieces from Cardiff-Miller’s Dreams-Telephone Series (2008-2010) and three video and audio pieces made from 2001 to 2004, is on view at the Hudson (Show)Room at Artpace through December. Blending the dream world with the cinema’s theatrics, the works disrupt the viewer’s passivity, and give a startle or two in the process.

Black metal telephones dot the walls of the main room. A woman’s soft, flat voice comes haltingly from the receiver, recounting bits of a dream from a half-awake place. The characters in her narrative slowly limp out, mixing mundane meetings with horrific occurrence in stories that seem never to end. The heavy antique phone drones on and on, its design as out of time as listening in on a party line. The temptation to flee the voice, seemingly as bewildered as oneself, is almost inescapable, but as you struggle to hear the distant words the sense of eavesdropping on an illicit conversation becomes overwhelmingly transgressive. Who else is on the line? The voice is not speaking to you.

On the long wall are two screens. Each plays a continuous video loop, with headphones providing an audio track. Recorded in binaural sound, it shockingly replicates the way we hear, allowing the listener to locate sounds in space.

Hill Climbing (2002) repeats over and over a breathless climb up a hill by the cameraman, who falls and is passed by a dog. He never reaches the top: a variation on Sisyphus, with Bowser, too. The other video/sound sculpture plays House Burning (2001), where we hear the sounds of the siren from far off as flames engulf a farmhouse. Finally, the firemen arrive, entering from the left of the screen, the fire truck hidden from view. Behind the large room, set in a darkened small room with chairs, plays Night Canoeing (2004). Here the headphones are abandoned, replaced by speakers. Acoustically, it is less effective, not strictly binaural. Compared to the headphones in the other pieces, or the star effects of home entertainment systems, the little speakers don’t deliver. But a searching light scanning the tree-clustered banks prodded by the craft rivets attention. Are there alligators here? Sensually impoverished by the limits of the beam, we hardly notice the diminished audioscape, as paranoia increases.

If not for the presence of The Muriel Lake Incident, a largish construct of rough plywood standing off-center in the main room, one might not think of sculpture at all. Following the contours of a theater, the wood sheets hold a tiny model of a movie house inside, and at the end, a tiny screen. The binaural headphones dangle in front. A series of discordant scenes play to a soundtrack that merges with voices that seem next to or behind the viewer, whispering a bit too loud. Again, you’re eavesdropping, but this time it’s the speakers who intrude. Finally, they seem to move away, a shot is heard and the scene becomes a murder mystery — not playing on the screen, but in the tiny theater itself.

Intrusion, listening in, inappropriate behavior, and paranoia fill the collection. Manipulation, most certainly. These pieces are interactive, but not in a game-playing sense. They make you pay attention, and there is a price paid. This is not art that can be owned. •

 

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller

Free
Wed–Sat, noon–5pm
445 N Main
(210) 212-4990
artpace.org
On view to December 31

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