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GEORGE BURES MILLER AND JANET CARDIFF
The hip New York City art crowd is hard to impress. But in this vast, high-ceilinged gallery overlooking the Manhattan skyline, visitors linger, clearly enthralled by Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet, an award-winning sound installation that transforms an obscure Elizabethan composition into a magnificent virtual choir. The buzz gathering around Cardiff, 44, a rising international artstarwho grew up on a southwestern Ontario farm, is near electric-loud enough to rate a major exhibit at the RS.l Contemporary Art Center, an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art, and strong enough to attract top-level museum directors, art dealers and collectors. “It’s going very well,” says a smiling Cardiff, standing out from her mostly black-clad admirers in a sparkly white blouse. Yves Pépin, down from Ottawa where he heads the foreign affairs arts promotion division, turns up the volume on the upbeat reaction to Cardiff’s work: “Janet is on everybody’s mind in art connected with high tech.”
Cardiff’s preferred medium is sound. She uses it as brilliantly as the old masters used paint, but instead of canvas, she conjures her original, vivid illusions of space on audio recordings, layering whispers, music, sirens and other ambient sounds into a narrative tour, leading visitors in, around and sometimes outside the museum. Listen. Cardiff’s voice is compelling. Her art, as accessible as a Walkman. “Try to follow the sound of my footsteps," she instructs through the headphones, in one of her signature audio-walks-groundbreaking works that launched her career. “Don’t fall behind.” It’s hard to keep up with Cardiff’s stunning achievements. In March-after a decade of acclaimed shows in the art world’s most elite venues-Forty-Part Motet won the National Gallery of Canada Foundation’s inaugural $50,000 Millennium Prize, open to artists around the world. Then in June, Cardiff and George Bures Miller, her Vegreville, Alta.-born husband, became the first Canadians to take home a prize at the Venice Biennale, often
called the “Olympics of the art world.” They won for their collaborative work The Paradise Institute, which simulates the moviegoing experience. Notes Pépin: “When you get invited to Venice-and win-it is hard to go much further.
But Janet and George are part of the international landscape, we will see their influence increase.”
Cardiff’s name may come up more often these days than Bures MilleYs-Vogue, The New York Times and Flare, and almost every major art magazine have profiled Janet in recent months-butthe couple’s esthetic sensibilities, and achievements, are intimately entwined. Cardiff, who completed an undergraduate degree in fine arts at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., met her husband, then a painting student, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where she did postgraduate work in printmaking.The couple married in 1984 and moved to Toronto, where Bures Miller studied at the Ontario College of Art. A few years later, Cardiff accepted a teaching position at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, where they worked in relative obscurity-soulmates in life and art.
Although their solo works are quite different-Bures Miller, 41, prefers kinetic sculpture and video, and is the acknowledged expert on technology-the couple constantly share ideas. “We’ve always been close artistically,” says Bures Miller. “Part of our dating process was collaborating on a film.”
This fall, at the end of a yearlong fellowship from the German government, the couple decided to settle in Berlin, although Cardiff maintains her link with the University of Lethbridge. Increasingly, their focus has shifted to the long list of invitations to create new works for elite galleries in Europe, Japan and North America. “It’s a lifestyle I used to imagine, and now we are living it,” says Cardiff. Still, she stays intent on the art. “We are pushing ourselves,” she adds, “making work that interests us and pushing the boundaries.”
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