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Marionette singer standing in front of a piano
Marionette singer standing in front of a piano

Image: © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York

Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller’s latest exhibition at Luhring Augustine’s West 24th Street space, The Marionette Maker, follows this line of thought by transforming an automated puppet show into a nocturnal dreamscape, one that questions who’s really pulling the strings. The eponymous work takes place in an 11-foot-long camping trailer topped with enormous megaphones, parked in the darkened gallery.

At one end, a robot-controlled marionette fidgets at a small desk atop a human-sized table, worrying over his sketches, while a waxy, human-sized mask of a face, eyeballs twitching in their sockets, occupies the larger table. Pulpy paperbacks, coffee cups, and other loose ends are scattered about, and cooking implements shift restlessly on the stove. To the rear is a wax-like figure of a sleeping woman in a white slip resting on a bed—the full-sized body double of the sleepwalking puppet. All around and above her bounce marionettes that range from a tiny, lifelike guitarist to anthropomorphic globs of clay with wings and eyes pasted on them, jittering in place.

Cardiff and Bures Miller are known for their monumental sound installations, such as The Murder of Crows, which was installed in the huge hall of the Park Avenue Armory a few years ago. Their sound work weaves choral and instrumental music with speech, nature sounds, and Foley-esque effects. But they know how to play with visual environments too, and The Marionette Maker is a coral reef of detail: a tiny opera singer and her pianist burst into song from one of the trailer’s sides, complete with human-sized theater seats from which to watch them; a model ship tosses on a tulle sea; a starry sky glimmers darkly through a high-up window. A looping soundtrack of driving guitar fades into animal calls, thunderclaps, and the sound of rain on a cold tin roof. The trailer is a self-contained world in what seems to be a desolate rural landscape, teeming in isolation.

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