Sunday, September 2, 2012

Janet Cardiff at MoMA PS1 and the Park Avenue Armory

The Canadian installation artist Janet Cardiff has two stellar projects currently on view in New York City for a few more days.

For the first piece, The Forty Part Motet, Cardiff arranged 40 speakers in a loft at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City. Each speaker plays a recording of a single voice singing Thomas Tallis's 16th century polyphonic motet Spem in alium, giving the listener the effect of standing in the middle of a choir.

This sacred music was written in 1570 for soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass voices without instrumentation. It reverberates through your core and induces a definite spiritual high. This composition lasts for about 10 minutes, and will be at PS1 until September 4, 2012.

The second piece, The Murder of Crows, is a far more ambitious work. Conceived in 2008. Cardiff, in collaboration with George Bures Miller, installed 98 speakers in the cavernous Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory.

In the center of the room, through a megaphone set upon spotlit table, Cardiff's voice narrates three vaguely connected nightmares that she had in Africa, accompanied by surreal layers of moving sound effects that include chanting Tibetan nuns, factory noises, guitars and strings, crashing waves, the beating of giant wings, a choral sequence, and marching bands.

According to the artists,
The title for the installation is ‘The Murder of Crows’, which means a grouping of crows. Sometimes when a crow dies, many other crows flock to the area around the dead bird and caw for over 24 hours, creating a ‘crow funeral’. The title also provides a thematic entry into the installation; a basis to create a work that becomes a metaphor for our political situation today.  
I wasn't sure that I got the political metaphor, unless the artists were alluding to social unrest and economic uncertainty in many parts of the world. The whole effect was certainly dreamlike and disturbing. The 30 minute sequence is played in a continuous loop. I listened to it twice, first sitting in the center of the room, then (as many others were doing) walking around the space to experience the swirling soundscape. Really fantastic.

This rarely presented work is part of the Mostly Mozart Festival and will be on view at the Park Avenue Armory until September 9, 2012.

(photos courtesy of MoMA PS1 and Huffington Post)

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