Cardiff and Miller: Make-believe filmroom


Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller
Exterior of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Paradise Institute at the Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, NY

I had such a funny mixed reaction to Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Paradise Institute, originally made for the Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, but which I just saw at Skidmore College’s Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs.

The installation was great. The installation was not so great. It was so close to really great, and so I feel like anything negative I say is carping…but…not really, just being fair.

The Paradise Institute is both the video on display and the installation in which the video is on display. It’s a trompe l’oeil and trompe l’oreille movie-house experience. Part of its excellence is the plywood exterior, a mysterious shape that crosses the illogical planes of Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos’ Holiday Home with a back-woods shed.

Stepping inside the space at first looks not so promising–plywood stairs to a plywood platform behind a plywood door. But sit inside on the plush theater seats and look ahead and voila, you’re in the balcony of a trompe l’oeil old-fashioned cinema that spreads out below you in an impossible space belied by the little old plywood box you just entered.

Then you put on the earmuff earphones, the door closes, and Cardiff and Bures Miller rise to their old tricks–sounds and voices that successfully simulate a theater audience settling in, fetching popcorn, worrying “Did you check the stove before we left?” as the movie soundtrack plays. About a quarter of the way through, I found myself losing interest in the comments, which just seemed more of the same.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
The Paradise Institute, 2001
Wood, theater seats, video projection, headphones and mixed media, edition of 5 and one artist’s proof, 120 x 449 x 201 inches, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Photograph courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

The movie had a similar problem. It was a pastiche of movie conventions–a noir Nurse Betty with a suggestion of hospitalized torture in a post-war setting, criminal bar scenes, Third Man shoes walking rain-soaked cobbles. The musical stings were also a pastiche of movie conventions–ominous stings, romantic swells. But in the video’s 13 minutes, the conventions remained conventional and ultimately repetitive. A chorus of enthusiastic voices shouting out numbers at the end was puzzling and the video lacked substance to anchor its boffo stylishness.

The two pieces of Cardiff and Miller that I admired most involved my physical participation with a disorienting walk guided by voices and visuals and echoes of others’ lives. The pieces at the 1999/2000 Carnegie International (which was pre-blog) and in Central Park (see posts here) and here), suggested shifts in time and the suggestion of parallel worlds. This installation tried to reach for that, but the use of a medium and a milieu promising entertainment and strong narrative links undermined any meditative journey.

Nonetheless, the piece is worth experiencing for the things it did so well.


geoge bures miller, janet cardiff, tang museum



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