Fruitmarket Gallery Installs An Opera Room And Killing Machine

By Kim Patrick Published: 07 August 2008

A photograph of a room-sized box with a window

Opera for a Small Room, 2005. Mixed media with sound, record players, records and synchronized lighting. Courtesy the artists and Gallery Barbara Weiss, Berlin and Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

Exhibition review - The House of Books Has No Windows invites the visitor to experience the audio-centric installations of the Cardiff/Miller imagination at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh until September 28 2008.

Acclaimed Canadian artists, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, have been collaborating since 1995 producing works that indulge their love of an escape commonly found in books, films and dreams.

Their work has been exhibited internationally including at the 49th Venice Biennale. However, The House of Books Has No Windows will be their first showing in Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

The exhibition presents a series of installations meticulously choreographed with the intention of creating environments capable of removing the viewer from the art gallery and transporting them to an imaginary world.

This should be impossible. However, The Dark Pool (1995), an eccentric collection of sounds, objects and the occasional invisible presence, authentically re-creates a space that belongs in the pages of a mystery or thriller.

A photograph in red light of the interior of a room

Opera for a Small Room, 2005. Mixed media with sound, record players, records and synchronized lighting. Courtesy the artists and Gallery Barbara Weiss, Berlin and Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

The Dark Pool manages to evade the contrived while showcasing Cardiff and Miller’s tireless attention to detail. The installation even includes in its mechanics an assumption that the ever-fearful gallery visitor, conditioned not to speak or touch, will contribute their own set of anxieties to heighten the experience.

The artists, intrigued by the relationship between the collector and the collected, assembled eight robotically operated record players, 24 speakers and 2000 records for a compelling, automated opera.

This grand performance tells of a lonely, small-town opera lover and his record collection. As one of the less immersive works in the exhibition, and with a running time of 20 minutes, Opera for a Small Room (2005) allows the spectator to digest the scale of control that Cardiff and Miller maintain from concept to execution.

Cardiff and Miller are as much storytellers as they are artists, capable of making the most obscure narrative irresistible. Road Trip (2004) is a series of apparently irrelevant family slides that in fact unfold like a detective story. We watch and listen, sharing a desire to find a sequence while experiencing the artists’ pre-occupation with cause and effect.

A photograph of a medically-inspired art installation in blue light

The Killing Machine, 2007. Mixed media, audio installation, pneumatics, robotics. Courtesy the artists and Gallery Barbara Weiss, Berlin and Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York

The Killing Machine (2007) investigates this more explicitly. The work simply will not operate unless the viewer is willing to press the red button and implicate themselves in an installation which performs an exploration of capital punishment and American foreign policy. There is a submissive requirement in Cardiff and Miller’s dark endeavours to usurp and disturb the visitor enough to blur fiction with reality.

Both playhouse and library, The House of Books Has No Windows (2008) is a comparatively low-tech construction of closed books that can be entered by any visitor willing to crouch down and crawl into its dark, empty interior.

Commissioned from the artists’ collection of unrealised projects, this installation is the exhibition’s title work and a statement piece which requests the visitor suspend their disbelief and submit themselves to these experiences as they would a book or film.

These are not conceptual installations but inclusive environments that offer, incredulously within the conventions of a gallery space, opportunities to experience escapism at its most immersive and theatrical. A rare publication of two volumes accompanies the exhibition introducing the works on show and illustrating as yet unrealised projects from Cardiff and Miller.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: