Thursday, 19 November 2009

Critique Presentation

The Dark Pool (1996) is a multimedia installation piece by Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. As described in the exhibition catalogue for A House of Books has no Windows, which was presented jointly by Fruitmarket Gallery and Modern Art Oxford in 2008, this room full of objects; ‘books, record players, speakers, models, notes, drawings and peculiar mechanical devices’, are seemingly abandoned. ‘Opening an old door, we feel we are trespassing on the workspace of some kind of mad scientist or investigative writer. As we move round, we trigger sounds – stories, conversations, music – that speak of the ‘dark pool’, a mysterious place where people disappear’.

I’ve always loved to escape, whether it was through walks, books, films or dreams, and it’s only now that I realise what I’ve been doing this past decade. I’ve been creating portholes into my other worlds.

(citied in Cardiff, Bures Miller, 2008, p11)

This sense of displacement from reality, by stepping into another world is exploited by their choice of objects and paraphernalia within the room. Many things are old or at least appear to be, perhaps Edwardian or Victorian – yet they are mixed with strange devices which seem to use modern technology. This sense of timelessness helps us to forget the here and now, as within this room, it is not possible to know where, precisely, we are in time.

Sound is also a key component to The Dark Pool. They were drawn to using this medium as it allows the possibility to mix up time and space. By layering sounds, they create different layers of reality as some of the recordings they use are from the ‘present’ i.e. Cardiff’s voice, but some (as described in an interview for the catalogue) are old recordings, hence they are layering together different periods in time. Enabling us to imagine ourselves in a third place – somewhere between the present and past.

Cardiff has been working with sound for many years. One of her most famous pieces is the ‘audio walk’ Her Long Black Hair (2004), in which we listen to her voice whilst on a walking tour of Central Park in New York. This complex work explores our notions of time as we are guided through the pathways, listening to the narrative, imagining what she sees in the past – following a mysterious woman with long black hair, whilst observing for ourselves what is happening in the present. Also, at points during the tour we are prompted to look at photographs, introducing another observable element to the work.

8. Cardiff (2005) Her Long Black Hair Central Park, New York

‘Many critics have observed that Cardiff’s audio-walks are cinematic, transforming the world into a film set with the viewer as its central protagonist’ (Bishop, 2005, p99).

Within The Dark Pool, our location is fixed but the layered soundtracks invoke an illusion of past and present. One of the most engaging parts of the installation is where, sitting in a chair placed between two speakers, we listen to Cardiff and Bures Miller discussing an imaginary scene taking place across the room: with a couple dancing in the shadows.

Cardiff, Bures Miller, (1995) The Dark Pool

As the observer / listener the conversation is hypothetical, we are listening to a dialogue that is purely fictional, and yet we can imagine the couple dancing, allowing a space to exist in our imagination where we can invent the scene.

The use of sound in the installation helps us to expand and enrich upon the story presented to us, attempting to displace our sense of reality, by confusing our sense of chronology and distorting our sense of location. Ultimately, this work immerses us as viewers and for a short space of time at least, presenting to us as described by Cardiff ‘parallel’ world, free from the constraints of reality.

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