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Janet Cardiff: Forty-Part Motet

Surrey Art Gallery
Surrey BC – Jan 2-Mar 23, 2008

Janet Cardiff - Forty-Part Motet

Janet Cardiff, Forty-Part Motet (2001), 40-track audio installation, [Surrey Art Gallery, Surrey BC, Jan 2-Mar 23] Collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Image courtesy of the Surrey Art Gallery. Photo: Sharon Doucette

Janet Cardiff is a Canadian installation artist who studied at Queen's University and at the University of Alberta. She works in collaboration with her partner George Bures Miller. Cardiff and Miller currently live and work in Berlin. Cardiff represented Canada at the São Paulo Art Biennial (1998), and with Miller at the 6th Istanbul Biennial (1999) and the 49th Venice Biennale (2001). They were the first Canadians to win the Special Award at the Venice Biennale.

Forty-Part Motet is a sublimely beautiful sound installation Cardiff created in 2001. The sculpturally conceived sound artwork was previously shown (and heard) at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Tate Gallery, London. The Surrey Art Gallery hosts the first exhibition of this work in British Columbia.

Cardiff began by recording 40 individual members of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir performing Spem in Alium by 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis. The composition is considered to be one of the most complex pieces of polyphonic choral music ever written. Cardiff then edited a 14-minute loop with 11 minutes of music and a 3-minute intermission, which is then delivered through 40 speakers arranged in 8 groupings. Each speaker plays a recording of one voice singing and the audience is invited to walk through the space and "sample" individual voices of the polyphonic vocal music. 

Forty-Part Motet is a realization of Cardiff's vision to "climb inside" music and to hear it from every angle and not from just one passive position afforded by a theatre seat. She writes: “I am also interested in how sound may construct a space in a sculptural way and how the audience may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space.” The exhibition is one of the featured events co-presented by the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad.


Mia Johnson

 Wed, Apr 2, 2008