Rooms with a view

Internationally celebrated artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller make their highly anticipated return to Toronto this spring with Lost in the Memory Palace, a selection of seven installations incorporating complex soundtracks, videos, objects and images that have never before been shown together in Canada. The exhibition, opening on Apr. 6, will include the debut of a new, as-yet-untitled work specially created by the duo for the AGO.

Janet Cardiff began collaborating with fellow Canadian artist and partner George Bures Miller in 1995. Representing Canada at the 49th Venice Biennale with the piece Paradise Institute (2001), they won La Biennale di Venezia Special Award and the Benesse Prize, which recognizes artists who break new artistic ground with an experimental and pioneering spirit. Their work has been shown in numerous venues worldwide; they live in Grindrod, B.C.

Co-curated by Kitty Scott, the AGO’s new curator of modern and contemporary art, and Bruce Grenville, senior curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Lost in the Memory Palace takes its name from an ancient memorization tool that associates ideas with specific physical locations. According to the “memory palace method,” a person can walk through these locations in the mind to recollect facts and memories. Filling level four of the AGO’s David and Vivian Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art, the exhibition is arranged like a traditional house with rooms opening up into other rooms. Visitors are invited to roam through the spaces, each one a new environment featuring a distinct work. Included in the exhibition are early works Dark Pool (1995) and The Muriel Lake Incident (1999), as well more recent works Opera for a Small Room (2005) and the thundering Storm Room (2009).

Says Scott, “When you enter these spaces and are confronted by soundtracks, images, moving images and objects, you understand the physical environments to be works of art themselves. As you engage with the artworks, you become a true participant. As a result, these installations are deeply moving.”

An accompanying iPad app, featuring exhibition content and essays co-created by the AGO and the Vancouver Art Gallery, will be available for purchase from iTunes and released concurrently with the exhibition’s launch. Toronto is the first stop on the exhibition’s tour; after closing at the AGO it will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, in September 2013 before opening at the Vancouver Art Gallery in June 2014.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the AGO will install Janet Cardiff’s celebrated soundscape Forty-Part Motet (2001) in the Henry Moore Sculpture Centre. The work features 40 mounted loud speakers that define a round space, each emitting a separately recorded voice singing Thomas Tallis’s 1573 choral composition Spem in Alium; the arrangement of speakers gives participants the opportunity to explore choral music as they would a sculpture, by listening to it in parts and as a whole. Hailed by the New York Times as “deceptively simple, matter-of-fact in its presentation – and so sublime in its effect,” the piece is on special loan to the AGO from New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Vancouver Art Gallery, Lost in the Memory Palace runs at the AGO from Apr. 6 to Aug. 18.