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Over There (in the UK)

November 27, 2002 at 10 PM

The Sound of Cardiff

It's a bit difficult to appreciate the art of Janet Cardiff just by reading about it or looking at the pictures on the web. Cardiff is a multimedia artist, so visuals play an element, but her secret weapon is sound and it is the aural atmosphere of her work that so enthralled me when I saw, heard and felt it in an exhibit at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal last summer.

The most memorable installation was Forty Part Motet, a re-creation of a choral piece by classical composer Thomas Tallis. You can listen to the composition, but a simple recording doesn't do it justice. The work in proper consists of forty separately recorded tracks played on forty speakers, each corresponding to a singer in the choir. The result seems more than just "live"; it is almost as if you are inside the choir. You can walk around the room and listen to each singer's contribution or step away and enjoy the enveloping sound.

Call me soundist, but I think it's the under-appreciated medium. Sound, more than sight or touch, affects our emotions. It is more subconscious, more subtle, more manipulative. Ask yourself: how scary is lightning without thunder? Sound is what makes a pretty good movie a great movie. Think of Apocalypse Now without the chop of the helicopter blades or "Ride of the Valkyries." Imagine Jaws without the dun dun dun dun.

Director Atom Egoyan, an artsy type himself, interviewed Cardiff for Bomb Magazine earlier this year. The interview gives a very good sense of what Cardiff's work is about, and why, in addition to being Important Art, it's also just plain fun.

And finally, if you're in or near Toronto before the end of the year, check out another of Cardiff's works at the Art Gallery of Ontario. If not, keep your ear open for her works in a gallery near you.

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Previously: Bond

Subsequently: Show Me, Show You II

November 2002
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