Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (2008). Art Review, London, Issue 26 (October). P. 152.
There is surprise involved when you find, stashed in a shoebox at the back of your wardrobe, a violently torn document seemingly detailing an exhibition you were just about to review. I can’t remember writing it, but I have a terrible, foreboding feeling that I should know what compelled me to destroy it. It begins:
“When artists in the late sixties and seventies were experimenting with the boundaries of the gallery space, and the artistic experience it was seen to rigidly encapsulate, they tended to do so very literally by moving the artwork outside. Daniel Buren, for example, employed people to walk the streets wearing placards bearing his striped motif (Untitled, 1968). [Missing text] Now, Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller also experiment with the boundaries of the gallery space, but in a profoundly different way.
“Speaking about Dark Pool (1995), the artists’ first officially collaborative piece, Bures Miller reflects, ‘We hoped to create an environment that removed the viewer from the art gallery and transported them into another space and time so that they forgot where they were and why they had come’ (2008). Dark Pool performs this operation, not by literally taking the artwork outside, but by presenting the viewer with a range of synchronised props, intimate sounds and fragmented narratives. You enter the work via a creaky old door, symbolising that you are entering a different type of space – a story space. Like an old attic it is cluttered with artefacts and littered with detritus […] whispered insinuating voices that emanate from peculiar speakers and horns […] all working to intrigue and compel your imagination.”
Reading this triggers something: There was Opera for a Small Room (2005), which was even more immersive and compelling, using a number of theatrical tricks to … submerge me. The voice of the invisible narrator, distorted and emanating from one of the many speakers, was interspersed with music played on multiple record players – frequently overlapping. There was also The House of Books Has No Windows (2008) which I noted, frankly, ‘did not seem to match the intensity of the other pieces.’ And then, and then there was another room … a room and a label, “The Killing Machine (2007)”. And there it was! A steel cage containing a dentist’s chair covered with pink fun fur and those two tripods standing motionless at either side. That red button!
“On pressing the button the machine sprang to life. The lighting changed and the two robotic tripods started to gently sweep around the chair in slow graceful movements. String music swelled the room, giving the movement a sense of poetry that lingered even when the robotic tripods started to become menacing. The machine began to generate its own ‘music’ [live sound made by mechanical drumsticks beating an electric guitar, heavy with distortion, and a base drum – I remember] . Then suddenly, sharp points started to punch out from the heads of the tripods into the space where a person would be strapped.”
Then the TV monitors surrounding the machine turned to static, emptiness. It suddenly stopped, returning to its original position. It was ‘balletic’ and beautiful and I watched with pleasure, complicit, both immersed and awakened. But I didn’t tear the document because I was frightened by what I had become, I tore it because I knew that only piecing together fragments would allow me to properly re-view this enigmatic exhibition.