Janet Cardiff
Forty Part Motet and Muriel Lake Incident
Tate Liverpool: Exhibition
12 April 7 September 2003
1 of 2
  • Janet Cardiff Forty-Part Motet 2001 British Edition

    Janet Cardiff Forty-Part Motet 2001 (British Edition)

    Lent by Pamela and Richard Kramlich and the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, fractional and promised gift, 2000

  • Janet Cardiff Muriel Lake Incident 1999

    Janet Cardiff Muriel Lake Incident 1999

    Courtesy of the Fondazione Sandretto re Rebaundengo per L'arte, Turin. Photograph courtesy of the Artist and Luhring Augustine
    © Janet Cardiff

Forty-Part Motet 2001

40 track audio installation
Duration: 14 minutes 7 seconds
Sung by Salisbury Cathedral Choir
Recording and post-production: SoundMoves
Sound editing: George Bures Miller and Steve Williams
Producer: Theresa Bergne
Forty-Part Motet: Version One (British Edition) by Janet Cardiff was produced by Field Art Projects with the Arts Council of England, Canada House, the Salisbury Festival and Salisbury Cathedral Choir, BALTIC Gateshead, The New Art Gallery Walsall and the NOW Festival Nottingham with the assistance of Tascam UK and B&W Loudspeakers
Lent by Pamela and Richard Kramlich and the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, fractional and promised gift, 2000.

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff (b 1957) is best known for her numerous audio works and films, often created in collaboration with her partner George Bures Miller.

Thomas Tallis, one of the most influential English composers of sixteenth century, wrote Spem in Alium nunquam habui, a choral work for eight choirs of five voices, to mark the fortieth birthday of Queen Elizabeth I in 1575. This piece of music deals with transcendence and humility, both important issues to a Catholic composer during a time when the Catholic faith was suppressed by the Sovereignty.

Using this piece of secular music as a starting point and working with four male voices (bass, baritone, alto and tenor) and child sopranos, Cardiff has replaced each voice with an audio speaker. The speakers are set at an average head height and spaced in such a way that viewers can listen to different voices and experience different combinations and harmonies as they progress through the work.

A few moments before the music begins the choir’s preparations can be heard along with fragments of conversations and the choir leader’s encouraging comments to the performers. All of this builds up to the sublime moment when the first solitary and plaintive voice is heard.

With Forty-Part Motet Cardiff offers a very personal and intimate engagement with the Tallis music, but one that is experienced in an open and public way:

Even in a live concert the audience is separated from the individual voices. Only the performers are able to hear the person standing next to them singing in a different harmony. I wanted to be able to ‘climb inside’ the music connecting with the separate voices. I am also interested in how the audience may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space.

Janet Cardiff: untitled statement in Elusive Paradise: The Millennium Prize at the National Gallery of Canada, Ontario, 2001 (brochure)

Muriel Lake Incident 1999

Video and mixed media (one of an edition of three)
Actors: Jim Manis, George Bures Miller and Janet Cardiff
Produced with the support of the International Istanbul Biennial, Department of External Affairs and International Trade of Canada, The Alberta Foundation for the Arts, The University of Lethbridge and thanks to many friends and family members for the crowd sound effects.

Janet Cardiff has gained international recognition for her ‘walks’, in which participants are led through a building or an area of a city by an audioguide or while watching the screen of a camcorder. These walks reference key themes in Cardiff’s work such as architecture, the cinematic and the structure of narrative. Shifting between past and present, memory and fact, Cardiff’s stories blur reality with the participant’s own hopes and dreams. These themes are also brought together in this piece, The Muriel Lake Incident, the title referring to a lake in the artist’s native Canada.

Inside a simple plywood box the artist has constructed a period cinema in miniature. On the small screen a complex story unfolds. Stylistically film noir and set in midwestern USA, the film presents the viewer with almost stereotypical motifs and characters, such as a gunshot, a ringing telephone and a cowboy. When the viewer puts on the headphones, apparently to listen to the soundtrack, they are virtually transported into the miniature space, sitting in the cinema with a female companion. Already mid-conversation this woman relates her dreams and anxieties, and it quickly becomes obvious that there are coincidences between the stories on screen and off.

Using literary and cinematic forms Cardiff explores memory, fantasy and contemporary cultural ritual. Playing with scale and using high quality audio technology Cardiff investigates the viewer’s personal relationship to the physical environment, to their own bodies and to each other. In The Muriel Lake Incident the very public experience of being in a cinema becomes a personal one, as the entire effect is created in the mind of the viewer.