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Cardiff and Miller camper installation
Cardiff and Miller camper installation

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Marionette Maker, 2014

Caravan, marionettes, robotics, lighting, audio (14 minutes), mixed media

Installation at Luhring Augustine, New York, NY

A group of inanimate objects endowed with uncanny life, someone at work designing them, a nod to the unconscious, an object whose age introduces the principle of memory: The Marionette Maker, 2014, seems to me to be a parable of artmaking, in more ways than the obvious one that it is named after a maker of sculptural figures. We enter a darkish room holding a familiar but old-fashioned object, a nearly eleven-foot-long caravan, that endearing predecessor, somehow both clunky and flimsy, of today’s hulking RVs. This one is already strange in that it’s topped by a large pair of rotating, megaphone-type speakers, themselves topped in turn by an umbrella much too small to shelter what’s beneath it—a token protection against the storm sounds coming from the speakers, along with aircraft hums, forest murmurs, and other noises. Nearing the caravan, we see that Cardiff and Miller have provided its various windows, doors, and hatches with tableaux, most of them peopled with moving marionettes or automatons (the latter more likely I think, though the dolls are provided with strings) and other entities: an opera singer and her accompanist at the piano, who together periodically grace us with a Tchaikovsky aria; a sailing ship on a vigorously stormy sea; an underground grotto; the marionette maker himself, drawing at a miniature desk that sits on the caravan’s built-in full-size table; and, most dramatically, stretching almost the full width of the caravan, a sleeping female figure—a life cast, apparently, of Cardiff herself.

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