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Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller works from The Goetz Collection on view at Haus der Kunst
Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, The Killing Machine, 2007. Installation mit Zahnarztstuhl, S/W Fernsehapparate, Robotertechnik, Pneumatik, Gitarre, Computer, Ton. Courtesy Sammlung Goetz. Installationsansicht Haus der Kunst, 2012. Foto: Wilfried Petzi, 2012.

MUNICH.- This year Haus der Kunst will present three exhibitions in which noise, sound and music play a central role: the eight installations by the Canadian artist duo Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, the simultaneous exhibition "Resonance and Silence", and, in the fall, a cultural archeology of the ECM record label.

Janet Cardiff (b. 1957 in Brussels, Ontario) became renowned with her series of "Walks" (1991 to 2006), in which she directed the listener’s steps with her own voice via headphones. In 1983 she met George Bures Miller (b. 1960 in Vegreville, Alberta); they have been a couple – in life and their art – ever since.

The works of Cardiff and Miller are situated on the interface between cinema and theater. They focus on the understanding of how viewers behave in the cinema and theater and what they expect in each of these places. Ideally, in the movies, the audience is shielded from the outside world; in theater, however, it expects a unique performance, the nuances of which cannot be repeated.

In "The Paradise Institute" (produced in 2001 for the Venice Biennale and awarded the La Biennale di Venezia Special Award) Cardiff and Miller combine the expectations of cinema and film in order to simultaneously undermine them. The viewer enters a wooden structure, which resembles the tiers of a 1940s movie theater. From there he looks over the front rows at a film, whereby sounds from the audience reach him: "Sound of cell phone ringing beside you in the audience. Rustling sound of someone going through their coat pockets", it says in the script. Then a woman’s voice nearby whispers, "Here’s your drink. Did you want some of my popcorn?", followed by the corresponding eating sounds, and then the question, "Did you check the stove before we left?" Thus, the outside world remains present and prevents the viewer from concentrating exclusively on the fictitious plot on the screen. Binaural sound, with which the spatial proximity of a person within whispering distance is simulated, is combined with surround sound. The reproduction of binaural sound is transmitted via headphones. The result is an auditory impression with precise position localization that surpasses the auditory source – a physically experienceable, hyper-realistic perception of sound.

This type of sound effect to superimpose story lines was traditionally used in radio plays. It has its counterpart in literature, with the works of Luis Borges, whom Janet Cardiff names as one of her sources of inspiration. In Borges’ work, character, reader, and author, all of whom have clearly separated defined roles in a typical novel, are merged in labyrinthine structures.

In Kafka’s short story "In the Penal Colony" (1919), an officer describes an instrument of torture to a traveler: a harrow with which the law that the offender has broken is written onto his body. The criminal does not know his judgment before he experiences it on his own body; he does not even know that he has been convicted and has no opportunity to defend himself. The officer summarizes his precept as follows: "The principle on which I base my decision is: Guilt is always beyond a doubt." Cardiff and Miller’s installation "The Killing Machine" (2007) is partly inspired by this Kafka story and partly by the American system of capital punishment. In the artist duo’s installation, two robot arms move like a mechanical ballet over an electric dental chair covered in pink faux fur, attacking an imaginary victim. The event is accompanied by the music of stringed instruments and an electric guitar.

in a fall, the sounds of the hiker’s breathing and a dog’s barking are transmitted via headphones. "Night Canoeing" (2004) tells of a nocturnal canoe trip. The water is black and the air so cold that steam rises from it. The sound of the paddles and the wandering beam of light scanning the shore evoke in the viewer a vague sense of danger and dark deeds.

In all the installations, the close, even intimate relationship between the viewer and the sounds or the voices in his immediate vicinity is a central artistic element. It is only an apparent paradox that this intimacy is rooted in a certain fear of intimacy. "I think it has something to do with my Scottish-Presbyterian background," says Cardiff, "being a bit afraid of being too physically demonstrative when it comes to showing affection." In the early "Walks" Cardiff’s guiding of the listener with her own voice served as a substitute for a "real" relationship with him or her.

One could also name Cardiff & Miller’s installation sound sculptures, since scope, proportion, and physical presence are common elements in both sound and sculpture. Taken as a whole, the works constitute a bridge between film and literature, radio plays, installation, and theater.

The artist duo has had solo exhibitions in Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, the Whitechapel Gallery, London, and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), among others.

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