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by Melinda Given Guttmann
The Killing Machine and other stories 1995-2007 Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
Miami Art Museum and Freedom Tower
Miami Art Museum in collaboration with Miami Art Central Miami, Florida
October 21, 2007 - January 20, 2008
Reviewed by Melinda Given Guttmann
Canadian artists Cardiff and Miller pierce the hearts and alter the spectator's consciousness by continually breaking open internal visionary worlds and fantasies with 11 multi-media installations which compose "The Killing Machine and Other Stories," whose U.S. Premiere in Miami presents a retrospective of their work from 1995 to 2007. Emotional and trance-like effects of the spectator's journey through diverse but complimentary experiences lasts for hours after leaving the exhibit. The artists transform the ordinary spectator of these works into an active participant and co-creator of unique fictitious stories stimulated by multi-layered fragmented collages; abstract mechanical devices, videos and slide shows., The stimulation of the physical installations are juxtaposed with inventive disconnected compositions of lyrical music, singing, the artists' disembodied voices, unidentifiable weird instrumental sounds. The artists compositions use hyper-real biaural acoustic music which subliminally alters the listener's brain waves activity. In the art of visualization, binaural beats enhance the power of mental images to create a reality which transcends external time and space.
THE KILLING MACHINE in the title of the exhibit, is a small masterpiece inspired by Kafka's The Penal Colony which mesmerizes the spectator with its contemporary allusions to the global torture; the terrors of Abu Ghraib or Guantanimo prisoners; and exploding capital punishment, represented in this piece by an old-fashioned dental chair with cruel mechanical devices moving towards menacingly towards an invisible body. Surreal robotic jointed metal arms with points of intense white lights their tips begin to move eerily towards the invisible victim in horrifying almost balletic movement. Blue and red lights flash on and off: the red light gives an illusion of blood.
In the Penal Colony, the machine which condemned the victim to death inscribed the "word" describing his crime against authorities slowly and deeply into his flesh until he died. In her definitive book The Body In Pain, Elaine. Carry argues that physical pain leads to the destruction and the unmaking of the human world, whereas human creation leads to the making of the human world.
Ravishingly beautiful acoustic music emitted from several speakers in the execution chamber hints at a mysterious redemption by entraining the spectator into deep meditation; opening the loving heart as anecdote to the insane. laws and political powers which are the Killing Machine of our era. Before she died, Susan Sontag declared that this would known as the era of torture.
As each spectator pushes a red button which brings the machine to life, he becomes a conspirator. The story is not in the installation but in the spectator's unconscious creativity which constructs a unique story from interweaving fragments of machinery, lights and music. One hopes that the fictitious story finds a salvation for the invisible body of the victim in the dental chair and all the invisible bodies which are found throughout our dark global theatre.
In an interview with Cardiff and Miller in Artfino, August 2007,Miller explains that everyone experiences their work in different ways: They intend " to put multiple layers in there to allow that. We definitely try to get to third or fourth reality, but I am not sure that every viewer gets there. Janet disclaims that their art is not "art about art" as some critics have described, but that it is about "magic...dance or film or theatre when you're in those moments of engagement, those moments of euphoria. The stories evoked are not meant to keep the plot moving, but "to keep the audience's brain moving....they make up a story for themselves, and that generates this whole other reality."
Although extraordinarily original in their creative use of technology and art forms, Cardiff and Miller's work remains allied with post-post modernism with its flagrant and subtle historical illusions and allusions to both popular and classical culture: Renaissance canons, Rock and Country Music; Dadaist chance and wit; German expressionist passion; Jean Tinguely's's metamechanic sculpture, 19th Century Grand Opera, silent and new wave French Film; Surrealism, avant-garde political theatre and narrative literature all of which appear and dissolve intermittently in a highly original aesthetic.technique.
Among the most alluring and diverse of the installations are one of their early piece PLAYHOUSE(2001); THE BERLINE FILESs(2003); and as
important as THE KILLING MACHINE, Janet Cardiff's solo work FORTY PART MOTET.
PLAYHOUSE (1997) one of Cardiff's earlier works with Miller's technology provides an individual spectator with mystery, entertaining mishaps, and less complex construction than their later collaborations. In PLAYHOUSE, an individual spectator, puts on earphones, and sits in a loge with a video projection of an old-fashioned opera house with parted red velvet curtains; and a fat, costumed Diva with a tiara singing a German Lieder. The sounds from the headphones are Cardiff's voice, combined witty imaginary audience, using miller's biaural audio. Cardiff seems to be seated next to you, exclaiming, "I'm sorry I'm late!" The Diva begins to sing Soprano, hands clasped, in a traditional manner with serious passion; and the imaginary audience breaks into wild laughter! This is followed by loud applause while the Diva is still singing. Suddenly, the audience starts to count loudly from one to ten. Cardiff whispers to the spectator, "I like this song a lot!" then,"This is not the right song, what is she doing? She knows there's not much time, I won't see her again!"
Cardiff confides she has a suitcase next to her, and is leaving before the police come. It ends with Georges voice declaring mysteriously that one day when the theatre is decrepit, she will return, and be seated in the same box, and remember all that went wrong that night. What a wild, crazy story can be constructed from this light-hearted entertainment.
Revealing the spectrum of Cardiff's and Miller's creations, the tragic, German Expressionist installation THE BERLIN FILES (2003) reveal the evolution of the artists work from their earlier period in with its dark and beautiful profundity. THE BERLIN FILES utilizes an audio installation of a 12 speaker surround sound; a computer, and a 13 minute video loop.
Another installation with an invisible figure, the projection begins and is shot through with full screen shots of actress Isabelle Stoffel, with tear stains of loss, in the manner of Ingamar Bergman's close-ups of anguished faces. The majority of the shots move slowly through rooms, tunnels, and a frozen winter in which the camera is recording an invisible body. We hear the sounds of walking; we see legs running in fear, in terrifying wind, we move through empty rooms,–in fact, the majority of the video projects emptiness and the void. The sounds are rhapsodic, ominous music from Film Noir. The empty rooms and roads are constantly juxtaposed with a blank screen. Strange occurrences appear and disappear. A car rushes down an abandoned road; sirens screech; helicopters pound from a deaf heaven.
Most magnificent, however, is elicited by the ominous music of what appear to be bells, harpsichords, then increasingly passionate piano music to a crescendo, played by the fingers of a disembodied body ; then suddenly a blank screen again.
Perhaps, the lavish shots from the point of view of a car with an invisible driver, riding on a snow-covered road with snow-covered trees to a place of ice represent death, probably suicide.
George Miller's voice recalls how he almost drowned when he was eight or nine. The piece moves from the dazzling beautifully colored shots inspired by black and white German Expressionist techniques to the a capella voice of Cardiff singing a soft rendition of David Bowie's "Rock and Roll Suicide." John Jones, a Berlin cabaret singer, raises the rhythm and passion of the lyrics of the song, with "You're not alone!"; a shot of the blond, anguished actress; and a blank screen.
The last installation of the exhibit is housed in a separate space from the other installations in Miami's Freedom Tower, entitled The Forty Part Motet (2001), a solo piece by Cardiff. Cardiff, well-known for her audio journeys both in museums and in public spaces gave each participant a cd player and a packet of photos transforming a stroll in New York's Central Park into an internal narrative mystery entitled, HER LONG BLACK HAIR in 2004. Each participant followed Cardiff's voice, combined with Miller's biaural three-dimensional sound retracing the footsteps of an enigmatic dark haired woman, interweaving fact, fiction and stream-of-consciousness.
The spectator-participants of FORTY PIECE MOTET, by contrast, stroll freely around an empty architonic space in which eight choirs of five voices are replaced by forty head height audio speakers. According to the Liverpool Tate museum, Cardiff's piece is based on a sublime 16th century choral work for eight choirs of five voices entitled Spem in Alium to mark the fortieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth in 1576. The work's themes are transcendence and humility which the artist constructs into an unusual intimate experience. If the work were presented in a traditional manner, the audience would hear a blending of harmony. Cardiff creates an intimate experience for the participants. To approach individual speakers and hear how each singer experiences the music. The participants listen to different voices in various combinations, from spaces over their shoulders, behind their backs, the music in inside the listener and the listener is inside the music. It is a thrilling and inspirational experience for each participant to create his personal musical composition while randomly moving about the room of a randomly moving crowd.
Cardiff and Miller in The Killing Machine and other stories presented us with invisible bodies, phantom figures, with multi-dimensional parameters, three-dimensional sound and fragments which allowed us to enter dimensions of consciousness of what Miller calls the third and forth "reality" beyond quotidian experience. The artists transformed all of us into transcendent artists. Through the imaginative powers of creating new ‘realities' through art, we can materialize our fictional ‘stories' and break out of these dark times towards a luminous future of freedom from suffering, torture and evil.