Critics’ Picks


Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller

SCAD Museum of Art
601 Turner Blvd
February 13–July 18, 2018

The first thing one encounters in Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s exhibition “Two Works” is Experiment in F# Minor, 2013. On a table sits an array of speakers set off by light sensors that are triggered by viewers’ shadows. When the room is full, loud dissonant melodies overtake it. When it’s empty, it settles into silence.

In the second installation, Opera for a Small Room, 2005, a wooden hovel-like structure stands in the center of a dark expanse. There are some crevices in the wood and a hole resembling a window. Take a look. Within the small construction are thousands of vinyl records—they slant on shelves and are piled up on desks. Turntables are scattered about. A Heinz can dangles from the low ceiling. It’s a total junkyard, but cozy too, even inviting. Antique speakers are placed throughout, from which a narrator’s voice emanates. He has a weathered, slow intonation. Viewers might feel that they’re in the presence of an oracular hoarder. “In the middle of a stage, a man sits alone in a room, surrounded by speakers, turntables, and records,” he begins. An animatronic record player starts up and an aria commences. Our narrator hums along to the music. He pauses and only his heavy breathing is audible. The record halts. There’s a deep channel of lonesomeness, but the quietude doesn’t scare us off so much as it solicits empathy. A different opera begins on a different record player. Our narrator resumes: “The mice are chewing on the wires in the walls. If they start on the records, I’ll have to poison them.” The second opera crescendos. The narrator begins referring to himself in the third person: “He’s filled with longing,” he says. “He begins to weep.” Despite its grand, theatrical mode, the piece is personal and quietly generous, and through its immersive depictions and voyeuristic tendencies, it affects on a human scale.