Today sees Forty Notes first foray into the artist’s work. This strand of posts will explore Janet Cardiff’s past works and aims to provide a greater understanding of the development of concepts and techniques, which have led to and are embodied by The Forty Part Motet.

The first art work we will consider is The Whispering Room (1991). This is one of Cardiff’s earliest works, one that shares many concurrent features with The Forty Part Motet. It is an installation of sound and video. A Number of speakers are place through the gallery space. A woman’s voice is heard, some times in conversation, expressing different perspectives of an action or event. The installation consists of 16 loops of dialog, which range from 40 seconds up to three minutes in length. There is a 30 second video of a girl tap dancing in a wood. This comes on at intervals and then stops.

The idea of The Whispering Room is that as one navigates the installation, moving from one speaker to another, one creates one’s own narrative. The method of breaking up the whole in to parts moves away from traditional way of telling stories in straight lines, and gives the viewer or listener freedom and allows for personal contribution and interaction.

There are many similarities between The Whispering Room and The Forty Part Motet, in particular polyphony. Although the female’s voice is largely the only voice, the way she expresses things from different perspectives is polyphonic.
Also Cardiff’s trade mark use of multiple speakers, which creates the destruction of a single story line unfurling again shows polyphony.

The Whispering Room shows Cardiff’s early interest in the sculptural and spatial qualities of sound. She gives viewers the opportunity explore sound in relation to space. This is a notion that is important and has developed with The Forty Part Motet

Here is a link to The Whispering Room on and at The Art Gallery of Ontario
Also here is an interview with Janet Cardiff from Bomb Magazine

Photo courtesy of The Art Gallery of Ontario