Magazine article Artforum International

Janet Cardiff

Magazine article Artforum International

Janet Cardiff

Article excerpt

ARTANGEL

There are eight million stories in the naked city, or so the famous voice-over would have us believe. Maybe this is a huge underestimate; or maybe it's a wild exaggeration. Maybe, as film theorist Christian Metz once proposed of classic Hollywood cinema, there is only one, endlessly retold: the story of narcissistic identification with an idealized other. Commissioned by Artangel, Janet Cardiff's audio piece The Missing Voice (Case Study B), 1999, uses a novel medium to revisit that psychoanalytic terrain.

Cardiff's piece involves a visit to London's Whitechapel Library and the exchange of one's ID for a discreet, museum guide-style Discman and headphones. From there, an uncertain number of fragmentary, overlapping oral narratives unfold, propelling one first around the library, then out into the winding streets of Whitechapel and Bishopsgate. The city and its population become the mise-en-scene of, and players in, a noirish concoction involving the listener, the narrator (who may or may not be the artist), a murder victim (who may or may not be the listener), a woman in a red wig, a detective obsessed with his quarry, a mysterious guardian angel (or murderer) with voyeuristic inclinations, the characters in Magritte's 1926 painting The Menaced Assassin (who may or may not be all of the above), and so on. Hallucinatory visions are invoked: strange cult celebrations, scenes of urban apocalypse. Loose threads of plot are left trailing, as Cardiff splices flashback and present action, voice-over and music, real-l ife dialogue taped on location, and fictional snatches from a dictaphone. Binaural recordings of urban sounds--passing cars, sirens, broken glass tinkling across pavement--prove remarkably deceptive to the ear as one negotiates the city streets.

"I watch your movements on the monitor--small doll walking through the streets. …

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