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2011 Käthe Kollwitz Prize Awarded to Canadian Artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
Canadian artists George Bures Miller (L) and Janet Cardiff attend a press conference at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin, Germany, 28June 2011. Cardiff and Bures Miller are the winners of this year's Kaethe Kollwitz Award and a prize money of 12,000 euros. The Berlin-based Academy of the Arts honors the artists for their innovative and media transcending work. EPA/SEBASTIAN TANKE.

BERLIN.- The Käthe-Kollwitz-Preis 2011 (Käthe Kollwitz Prize) has been awarded jointly to Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. On this occasion the artist duo from Canada will be showing four works in the Akademie der Künste (Academy of Arts). The exhibition at Pariser Platz will focus on the construction and deconstruction of acoustic perception and illusionist spaces. The real occurrences in Cardiff’s and Miller’s stories only reveal themselves when people enter the space and engage their visual and tactile senses. An additional layer is revealed in the process of recalling and imagining spaces, objects and relations. As an observer-listener, the visitor is tugged back and forth between dream and trauma, horror and curiosity. What people see often fails to match with what they are hearing, or it is hard to associate a particular sound with its imagined location. One of these intriguingly narrative main works is entitled “Killing Machine” (2007), on display for the first time in Berlin. Confronted with the machine of torture in the room, the visitor experiences the maltreatment of a fictional victim as it is increased to the unbearable – an effect achieved purely through light and a complex sound composition. While the changing light conditions and the empty “treatment chair” convey the experience of inner pain, a disco ball renders the situation trivial. The narrative aspect plays out only in our minds.

Statement of the jury
Sound has belonged to the domain of the fine arts since the Futurists, since John Cage and the original developments of the radiophone, acoustic art and sound sculpture. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have effectively enlarged this field within the last twenty years through intensive, independent works. Human beings have a rich perceptual experience of the visual world – and know that eyes are easy to deceive and “only” focus on the world in front of us. In contrast, ears can be aware of and perceive an entire space encircling a 360-degree radius. Cardiff and Miller demonstrate just how much a noise or a word that comes from the unseen areas behind us may frighten us. They employ these means like virtuosos, turning the individual visitor into a participant of a complex event that they have developed. Since Münster Walk, an audio tour through the city of Münster during the “Skulptur.Projekte 1997,” many art lovers have experienced this strange shift of space and even time.

Four years later, Cardiff/Miller convinced us again with their “The Paradise Institute” in the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. After putting on the large headphones, you no longer felt as if you were in the small video chamber, but in a giant movie theater with the corresponding sounds and reverberations. The fact that other people even sit behind us conjured up fears, as did the thoughts that could trigger our darker realms: Feelings of anxiety, memories of something beautiful, but also the banal, “Did I really turn off the stove at home?” – Cardiff and Miller were not afraid of having to make “big cinema.”

They similarly like to investigate primal fears and intense feelings, incorporating them into their works. This is not to impress us, however, but instead to almost disconnect the boundaries of perception and fiction, of reality and presentation. Comparable to Baroque trompe l’oeil painting or the fascination with anamorphic effects, which first become recognizable in cylindrical mirrors, Cardiff and Miller develop increasingly more artistic, more spatially perfect sound forms for their narrative sound impressions. Concentration and deceleration were realized in the sound sculpture “The Murder of Crows”, in 2009 at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum in Berlin, combined with an intense, almost physical experience. The sound event, the voices orbiting the listener, but also the nightmares that were unleashed, engaged the participant quite differently than what occurs in the rows of a concert hall. At the same time, there are works by the two artists that express playfulness and the joys of technical detail. They make us curious about their other works, which is wonderful confirmation that the jury of the Akademie der Künste has chosen the correct winners for the art prize called the Käthe-Kollwitz-Preis.

Wulf Herzogenrath

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