Thursday, May 23, 2013

AGO - Lost in the Memory Palace

The AGO is currently hosting a fascinating set of works by artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller  that incorporate music, sound, video, sculpture, robotics, lighting and other special effects.  "Lost in the Memory Palace" consists of a series of eight rooms, each containing a playful installation that stimulates your eyes, ears and brain and often blurs the lines between reality and fiction.

My favourite installation is titled "The Muriel Lake Incident".  Looking into a wooden box, you see a miniature movie theatre screening a film, whose audio you hear through a headphones.  But what you hear is more than just the music and dialogue from the movie, but also the whispered conversation of "the couple sitting in front of you in the theatre."  As you hear them coughing, rustling, passing and crunching on popcorn, and discussing plot points, and where they will meet up later, you feel like shushing them and are instantly transported into the scene, in the seat behind them.  The movie has a mysterious air and you anticipate that one of the characters may get shot.  The surprise ending further blurs the lines between what happens in the screened movie you are watching versus the "meta-show" that you are participating in.

Another voyeuristic experience called "Road Trip" involves sitting in a small room watching mundane images projected from an old fashioned slide projector while listening to an audio commentary.  The conversation is so natural and intimate that you feel like you are spying on two family members as they view and discuss a slide show of their grandfather's road trip across Canada.  The timing of the slides to the pre-taped dialogue was really impressive, as the discussion led to fast forwarding through a bunch of slides, reversing to look at a past one again, and even pausing to take out and reorder some slides (causing the screen to go blank for several seconds).  Just like the previous exhibit, you are made to believe that you are actually in the room with these people.  The slides actually did belong to George Bures Miller's grandfather.

With the press of the proverbial big red button, "The Killing Machine" fires up a contraption that is a strange cross between a robotic ballet and torture chamber.  A megaphone speaker and two robotic arms attached to a spot light and a dental drill dance, preen and poke at a fuzzy pink dental chair with a spike-covered leather strap, while accompanied by eerie music.  You can easily envision the poor soul trapped in this chair as it rises and reclines to meet the instruments of torture.  A disco ball overhead shines multicolored lights and reflects shadows on the wall that mirror the dance and are equally spell-binding to watch.

The "Storm Room" simulates the experience of watching from within as a storm approaches and magnifies in intensity.  Rain pelts the windows and the roof starts to leak, with water dribbling into waiting buckets.  Flashes of lighting streak across the shaking windows as the thunder rumbles, causing the florescent lights to flicker.

A motet is a choral composition of individuals singing simultaneous but relatively independent melodic lines.  For the "Forty-Part Motet" installation, Cardiff commissioned eight choirs, of five members each, to sing the forty parts of the motet Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis (1593).  Eight groupings of five speakers were then positioned in an oval within the Henry Moore sculpture gallery, with each speaker projecting one of the recorded voices.  If you walk up to a grouping of speakers, you can clearly hear the individual voice in each one.  Sitting in the middle of the oval results in an angelic concert in surround sound, made all the more poignant while viewing the beautiful Moore sculptures.

The other three installations are equally interesting.  The uniquely interactive, "performance-art" experiences of this exhibit are so much fun and not to be missed.