Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Stuff Seen - Janet Cardiff's 40 Part Motet


G [worse than an F-]

If you've been reading this here blog for a while, you know that I'm not a real big fan of Ms. Cardiff's work. If you're new then you might want to read any one of the four major posts I wrote complaining about her work (one, two, three, four).

If you read this here blog yesterday, you know that I was in Ottawa on Sunday and spent some time at the National Gallery. It just so happens that 40 Part Motet is installed and running (for the most part) in the Rideau Street Convent Chapel, which is part of the National Gallery.

It was my first time hearing it, seeing it, experiencing it. And I can say quite confidently, it is nice. Nice as in my grandmother. Nice as in chocolate chip cookies and milk. Nice as in a four week old kitten. Groundbreaking it ain't, cutting edge it ain't, thought provoking it ain't. And I think, actually I know, that while there are lots and lots of people who like art that is safe and nice (or else why would Thomas Kinkade or Jack Vettriano be so gosh darn filthy rich?) I most definitely prefer my art to be served with a pneumatic drill, a razor or a furrowed brow.

From the top, the thing that first annoyed me about the piece is how you can hear it for freakin' miles! I was in gallery A107, the one that deals with the Canadian Art Club (and some silverware and some aboriginal art that blocks the view of Tom Thompson's Jack Pine) now I wasn't taking measurements, but A107 is behind the Water Court which is at the far end of the Rideau Street Convent Chapel which obviously doesn't have thick enough walls or enough acoustic insulation, because I could hear Spem in Alium. They have the volume cranked up high enough that not only will it wake the dead - but if you click on this link you will be able to graphically see exactly where you are able to hear Spem in Alium.

Second off: Spem in Alium is a piece of music that was written for 40 voices. The piece of art that Ms. Cardiff created is called "40 Part Motet," so then why are 63 people credited with singing? Had the chat tag already gone to the engravers and it was too late to correct? Could it be that there is some electronic hanky-panky going on? Why seven choirs of eight voices and one choir of seven voices? Or were the sopranos told to whisper and that's why they had to be tripled up?

Third off: Why the spaghetti of wires? Bowers & Wilkens as far as I can tell has coughed up at least £20,000 worth of speakers, nobody could figure out how to make them wireless?

Fourth off: While I was there listening - for the record, twice, although neither time for the full 14 minutes and seven seconds - a technician stomped through the room, went behind a velvet rope and into some secret door. According to the guard on duty, it breaks down regularly. Does anybody know if it came with a warrantee?

Fifth off: An awful lot of a professional curator's time is spent verifying who was the actual artist of a specific piece (amateur curators tend to be a trusting lot). In the Baroque Room (aka gallery C204) they even go so far as to write on the chat tag "Studio of Peter Paul Rubens" and don't even get me started on Rembrandt. So then why if some company called "SoundMoves" recorded the sucker, it was sung by 63 other people, conducted by two others, written by Thomas Tallis, produced by Theresa Bergne, and the speakers were made by Bowers & Wilkens, then what exactly did Ms. Cardiff do in order to get top billing? Or is this a case of make work for some art historian 346 years from now?

Sixth off (and last): Les Levine. Who? No I had never heard of him either. But there is a kick ass piece of his called Wire Tap hidden in a cramped hallway leading to gallery B101 that uses "12 speakers, 6 cassette players, 12 speaker cords, 9 master tapes, and 9 playback tapes." Basically he recorded all his phone calls for a year, and then selected 120 hours to play back simultaneously on the 12 speakers. According to Ms. Cardiff with 40 Part Motet she wanted to be able to . . . "climb inside" the music, connecting with the separate voices." Sorry Janet, Les did it better, 30 years earlier and with no outside help.

Which then leads me to my addendum - It struck me that the fine folk at the National Gallery are somehow, either intentionally or unintentionally I don't know, undermine Canadian art, pieces by internationally known artists that are extremely similar to stuff that is being exhibited by Canucks, however, shall we say the foreigners' work is just a tad better. Beyond Janet Cardiff vs. Les Levine, there is Stan Douglas vs. Steve McQueen and Kevin Schmidt vs. Dan Graham.

And if anybody from the National Gallery (I imagine that there are a couple of people who have/are reading this) Ms. Cardiff, Mr. Bure, heck Mr. Tallis or anybody else wants equal time to respond, please don't hesitate. I would dearly and greatly adore to be shown that I am completely and thoroughly wrong.

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