While hardly about the pandemic, or any of the other crises so afflicting us, all are invoked in this exhibition, which is also often tender and profoundly soulful.
At once enthralling and unsettling, this three-part exhibition by Canadians Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, memorably titled After the summer of smoke and fire, is spot on for our anxious (to say the least) times.
Escape Room (2021), in the gallery’s semi-darkened back room, is a stunning new installation that includes enticing, yet foreboding, architectural models and dioramas meticulously handmade by the artists from sundry materials. Based on a text Cardiff sent me, some of the materials are: Hydrocal, sand, tree branches, acrylic paint, diorama supplies, miscellaneous objects, 3-D plastic objects, electronics, audio speakers, playback systems, and laser sensors.
In the center space is the only work that predates the COVID-19 pandemic, the remarkable, piano-like “The Instrument of Troubled Dreams” (2018). The piece is inspired by 1960s Mellotrons, and audience members are invited to play it. Ravens, thunder, helicopters, a quartet, a choir, violins, sweeping wind, gunfire, barking dogs, a carnival, and Cardiff’s mesmerizing voice telling brief, enigmatic, and mostly dire stories, are just a few of the sounds that course through the space from multiple speakers when the instrument is played.
Two exquisite landscape paintings by Cardiff are at the entrance, each set in a handsome walnut frame. Who knew that Cardiff, so identified with sound, has such painterly chops? I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been following her work, and her collaborations with Bures Miller, for many years.
The paintings, of a fire reflected on water and a pickup truck driving down a lonely road toward a dark building, come with a twist. Press a red button on each to hear different soundtracks — sometimes Cardiff’s voice, sometimes music or ambient sounds — that obliquely respond to the paintings, offering hints and suggestions to their possible meanings or interpretations. I found it engrossing.
While hardly about the pandemic, or any of the other crises so afflicting us, including environmental mayhem, economic troubles, rampant violence, and historical trauma, all are invoked in this exhibition, which is also often tender and profoundly soulful.
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