Deep Dive Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller: Ambient Jukebox & Other Stories

An interview with the artists and a closer look at highlights from the exhibition

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s second exhibition with the gallery presents a series of new multimedia works made over the last four years. In a new interview, the artists discuss their immersive installations and intimate sculptural collages, offering personal insights into the exhibition’s visual and sonic elements.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Ambient Jukebox, 2024
interactive jukebox with tracks of ambient guitar music composed by the artists, 55-1/8 x 29-5/8 x 43-3/8 inches (overall) [140 x 75 x 110 cm], edition of 3

As the title of the exhibition suggests, a repurposed 1960s jukebox provides not a selection of classic rock-and-roll hits but a series of vinyl ambient tracks recorded by Bures Miller at the start of the covid-19 pandemic. Visitors to the exhibition may be surprised by this discord between the ambient music and the object’s original intention, yet the droning sounds of an electric guitar inspire within viewers’s imaginations new associations resembling cinematic scenarios.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Suitcase theater, 2020-23
mixed media & air-dry clay, suitcase, smart phone, charger, clamp, wooden shelf, 22 x 18 x 15 inches (overall) [55.9 x 45.7 x 38.1 cm], edition of 3

A suitcase theater provides all the necessary materials for a traveling play, complete with curtains and a cast of collaged characters. Inspired by Cardiff and Bures Miller’s pivotal sound and video walks, in which viewers retrace the artists’ pre-recorded steps in a variety of locations, a mobile screen affixed to the front of the suitcase both records and replays a series of short and often comedic performances.

Over the years, the artists have acquired an impressive collection of not just antique jukeboxes and vintage suitcases but also rotary and retro phones, which serve as the more subdued speakers in Conversations with my Mother. Like the custom-built cabinet that appears to be plucked from a private, domestic space, the nine lines offer visitors special access into the lived experience of the artist’s intergenerational relationships, namely intimate and everyday phone conversations between Cardiff and her mother. 

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Cosmic Disco, 2024
mirror balls, acrylic paint, rotating motors, DMX lights, chains & miscellaneous hardware, dimensions variable, edition of 3

Building upon their 2015 commission for Houston’s Menil Collection, Cardiff and Bures Miller’s Cosmic Disco integrates audio harmonies captured by NASA’s Voyager I and II spacecraft with a choreographed light sequence projected by rotating, augmented mirrorballs. The immersive installation transports viewers into an otherworldly space, wherein roving specks of light and strange ambient sounds could symbolize a macrocosm of interplanetary rotations or a microcosm of cells within a petri dish. As the artists explain, surprising transitions within the projected sequence encourage viewers to question the security of their experience: “What happened to the world? Did we blow it up? Did we blow up the galaxy? […] Something major has happened and then it makes you think about your current situation in the world.”

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Pack Up Your Troubles, 2023
gramophone horn, suitcase, electronics, audio, 49 x 23 x 40 inches (overall) [124.5 x 58.4 x 101.6 cm]

Cardiff’s unique vocal performances appear regularly throughout the exhibition, whether through conversations with the artist’s mother or childlike performances with toy figures. But in Pack Up Your Troubles, the artist’s whispering song emanates from within an elongated horn plucked from an antique gramophone and fastened atop a vintage suitcase. The artist softly sings a famous 1915 World War One marching song cherished for its cheerful reassurance, yet the lullaby-like tone and pacing of Cardiff’s voice recall those very “troubles” she encourages her listener to “pack up.”

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Lost at night, 2023
mixed media, electronics, audio & battery on wooden pedestal, 48 x 12 x 12 inches (overall) [121.9 x 30.5 x 30.5 cm]

After creating large scale physical works, the studio is always full of bits and pieces of detritus. These ever multiplying objects of refuse evoke so many past histories by their markings and painted surfaces. Even a simple piece of wood still summons memories of the tree that it came from. The sculptures created from these recycled objects grew out of child-like playfulness, a freeing process of intuitive response to form, texture, and memories.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, LOVE, 2023
photographs, electronics, audio, 27 x 23 x 2 inches (overall) [68.6 x 58.4 x 5.1 cm], edition of 3

A grid of framed photographs brings together a diverse selection of London’s street signage to repeat the titular LOVE. Replacing an L, an O, and a V with small speakers activated by a hanging red button, the artists vocalize the missing phonetic syllables. When all three speakers sound simultaneously, their harmonies conjure memories of The Beatles’ All You Need is Love, just as the colorful, graphic typefaces allude to Robert Indiana’s iconic sculptures.

Janet Cardiff, White House Night, 2023
oil paint on Birch panel with shelf & found text, 9 x 9 x 5-1/2 inches (overall) [22.9 x 22.9 x 14 cm]

Cardiff’s small-scale oil paintings often invoke ethereal nocturnal scenes, like this white house nestled within a wintry landscape. While the artists maintain a personal connection to the subject of this scene, inspired by the couple’s first home in British Columbia, they invite viewers to play with interpretations through cut-and-paste captions. In this case, an adjustable caption provides two short texts culled from their collection of paperback crime novels, transporting viewers into a mysterious scene.

Janet Cardiff, It’s not my fault, 2023
mixed media, 14 x 3 x 2 inches (overall) [35.6 x 7.6 x 5.1 cm]
Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Genie, 2023
mixed media with electronics, magnet, 11 x 10 x 5 inches (overall) [27.9 x 25.4 x 12.7 cm]

A mischievous darkness imbues many pieces made from odds and ends. A wall-mounted collage combines peeling scraps of wood, a noirish illustration of a woman with her eyes closed, a line of found text, and string of wooden beads that spell out an expletive. Do these words belong to the woman, or are they aimed at her? Another piece presents a tiny disembodied head pasted to a spoon that rests in an old bourbon jar. A hidden magnet pulls the spoon, causing the face to mysteriously sway as the genie is summoned from its bottle.

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