When Janet Cardiff’s “Forty-Part Motet” went on view at MoMA PS1 in the weeks following the September 11 attacks in 2001, its joining of collective song and individual voice summoned for many visitors 9/11’s distinctive combination of national tragedy and personal loss. Today, we remember.

*If you missed the Forty-Part Motet at MoMA PS1, or if you can’t get enough (like us), it’s currently on view at The Cloisters.

Paradis acoustique / New York / 40 voix enregistrées + 40 hauts-parleurs + fragments d'une chapelle Espagnole du 12ème siècle = The Forty Part Motet (2001). Cette sublime installation de son produite par l'artiste Canadienne Janet Cardiff se déroule actuellement au Cloisters, et c'est une expérience aussi rare que magnifique. Cliquer pour écouter un extrait.


Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s “The Killing Machine” (and other works), which I saw at the Museo del Arte Contemporaneo, Barcelona (MACBA) in 2007, changed my life.

Upon seeing the various installations that incorporated sculpture, sound, robotics, and poetry, I knew my experience with contemporary art had reached a new level, from which I could never return.

One of the installations that touched me the most is “the Paradise Institute.”  The viewer walks into a room which appears to be the back rows of a theater.  The screen displays the rest of the theater, tricking the audience’s depth perception and implanting him or her into the scene.  As one puts on the headphones, one can hear other voices in the theater, along with the film on display. 

Apart from the technical execution, the film displayed (and a surprise guest) are made with much poetic lyricism. I walked out of the small theater completely changed, inspired.

Here is the formal statement from the artists’ website:

With this work, originally produced for the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Cardiff and Miller focus on the language and experience of cinema. Viewers approach a simple plywood pavilion, mount a set of stairs, and enter a lush, dimly lit interior complete with red carpet and two rows of velvet-covered seats. Once seated, they peer over the balcony onto a miniature replica of a grand old movie theatre created with hyper-perspective. This is the first in a series of illusions orchestrated by Cardiff and Miller. Viewers then put on the headphones provided and the projection begins.

Extended Description 
At least two stories run simultaneously. There is the “visual film” and its accompanying soundtrack that unfolds before the viewers; layered over this is the “aural action” of a supposed audience. The film is a mix of genres: it is part noir, part thriller, part sci-fi, and part experimental. What is more particular about the installation is the personal binaural “surround sound” that every individual in the audience experiences through the headphones. The sense of isolation each might feel is broken by intrusions seemingly coming from inside the theatre. A cellphone belonging to a member of the audience rings. A close “female friend” whispers intimately in your ear: “Did you check the stove before we left?” Fiction and reality become intermingled as absorption in the film is suspended and other realities flow in.