The Baltic - Newcastle Gateshead Quayside
Photo: Glen Bowman
The Canadian born artist Janet Cardiff gained international recognition for her signature audio and video walks, which lead participants along a predetermined path listening to Cardiff’s hypnotic commentary and direction. She is fittingly part of Library and Archives Canada’s celebration of women’s achievements, where her awarding winning work and outstanding contributions to culture are recognised. The walks, which can be found online, take place in New York, London, Berlin, Montreal, and many more places, and I am eager to try them all. They have the power to reinvent a place, mixing memories and new experiences to build a narrative through a landscape.
The artist recently came to my attention after I visited her incredible exhibition at BALTIC Contemporary Arts Centre, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The Forty Part Motet is a reimagining of the 1573 Thomas Tallis renaissance choral work Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui. Each of the forty voices from the piece is played back through an individual speaker, and the forty speakers are separated into eight groups of five in a circle around the room allowing the audience to hear the voices from every direction, with the possibility of weaving in and out, focusing on a particular voice or group. Cardiff’s innovative use of space and sound is what attracted me to her walks and exhibitions and the result is spellbinding and really draws in the listener.
What interested me most about the exhibition was the fascinating mixture of sculpture and sound that the prearranged forty speakers on stands created. Each speaker acted as a physical and digital representation of the voice it played back. The music was loud and powerful and as I sat in the centre of the room letting the various sounds and voices wash over me, I was aware of the smiles it brought to the faces of people around me. This new way of hearing music was enchanting and I would have happily sat in that calming, remarkable space for hours, which is an element I am always looking for in an exhibition or work of art. I believe an exhibition should trigger an emotion or create an experience, either challenging expectations and provoking thought or providing a space for reflection and relaxation. I thoroughly recommend experiencing Janet Cardiff’s work either at this harmonious exhibition or through an eerie audio walk.
Girl Museum Inc.