Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Luhring Augustine
Richard, Frances, Artforum International
Someone is being followed; someone is not telling the whole truth; footsteps crunch on gravel; the view careers along a lonely pedestrian underpass or through dark trees; an urgent whisper startles in one's ear. Shots ring out. Somewhere the narrative conventions of cinematic thrillers, detective stories, and radio serials and the frustration of such conventions by strategies of appropriation and fragmentation slap each other on the back and acknowledge that, as paradigms for storytelling, they are no longer opposites but instead old pals who, as it were, can finish one another's sentences. We, their audience, in turn no longer expect the crime apparently in progress to be specified regarding victim or motive; we are not surprised to discover that the blonde who seemed to be the heroine disappears as the scene shifts. When the loop begins again and we're back in the middle of the uncertainty, we don't feel dreamlike deja vu or shocked bewilderment. We know this is our cue to take the headphones off and let somebody else enter the installation.
Herein lies the problem with recent work by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. As ever, they are experts at creating binaural audio recordings that provide uncannily convincing experience of whispering, etc. They also know how to compose compelling filmic images and to modulate the release of dramatic information across time. In fact, Cardiff and Bures Miller know too well. In their recent show, they presented two largescale pieces: The Berlin Files, 2003, a video projection with immersive sound, and Cabin Fever, 2004, a miniature diorama/drama including headphones with binaural audio. Both polished, professional productions, they were technically impressive but affectively stillborn. There were also two smaller pieces--a Victrola horn projecting from a suitcase, which broadcast Cardiff's bewitching voice improvising a lullaby; and a Marshall amp and pedal in an apparently silent, haphazardly sound-proofed room. The first of these was a bit of sentimentalism, and the latter was the best part of the show.
The Berlin Files concerns a bottle blonde and an apartment that isn't empty and a boy in a sequined jacket and a light that won't turn on; that is, a tale of youthful anomie and Rock 'n' Roll Suicide. …