I guess it is a little revealing that this is my first post about my thesis. Yes, yes, okay, blame the P-word (procrastination). I thought I would post parts of my thesis – because it seems like I read more closely when I see my writing online (“published”). Plus I wrote the thing in sixteen “tracks,” because Janet Cardiff did so much recording in sixteen tracks, but my committee (Jane McFadden, Bruce Hainley, and amy Gerstler) hated it. Basically I need to go back through everything ever written about Cardiff and George Bures Miller and amp my paper up a notch in terms of criticality – in three or four parts, not sixteen. I have until December this year, but I hope to have it done sooner than that – before Thanksgiving ?
Track #1 – Intimacies (1992)
The ad for the 1992 version of Intimacies ran like this: “When is close too close? Four artists are asking you to help them explore the natural desire for and the boundaries of intimacy. Call 265-5787, Wed.-Sat., noon to 5:30…” The request appears sincere, direct and presents the project as a collaborative exploration of emotional terrain. Hypothetically starting from ground zero, the artists were proposing to initiate relationships with strangers and to see how close they could get to a state of intimacy. Realistically the group performance was fraught with confused intentions and relied upon a simplistic stereotypical definition.
Janet Cardiff was one of the four artists. This performance puts a name on one of the predominate themes running through Cardiff’s works and collaborations and marks a beginning of her career-long investigation into the nature and workings of contemporary intimacy. It also marks a moment of synthesis where her multimedia excursion into sound became tightly focused on creating a relationship with the viewer. That same year in Banff, Cardiff chanced upon a technology called binaural recording and used it to create her first audio Walk. The audio Walk and its use of binaural recording has become her trademark signature, even though Cardiff and George Bures Miller produce many works without binaural recording. Cardiff’s use of binaural recording and other strategies has led to increasing perceived intimacy with the viewer/participant in her works. This thesis explores Cardiff’s trajectory into intimacy from Intimacies (1992) to The Paradise Institute (2001). A contemporary definition of intimacy is excavated by exposing exactly how Cardiff and Miller create the appearance of intimacy in the later works, particularly in the audio Walk, Missing Voice (case study b) (1999), and the theater installation, The Paradise Institute.
For the group performance Intimacies in 1992, over fifty people responded to the newspaper ad and chose to come to a rented office building to spend twenty minutes with one of the artists. The premise was simple, Cardiff says: “We made appointments with people, and they came in and we talked about intimacy. People could come in and talk to me about anything. Sex, insecurities…” While the subject of conversation was ostensibly “intimacy,” the participants were welcome to speak on any topic. The implication was that intimacy was not merely to be the subject of conversation, but that a degree of closeness or familiarity with the participant was anticipated. The performance, Intimacies, was Cardiff’s explicit attempt to make an “honest connection” with the viewer.
Unfortunately, in Cardiff’s own words, the project became, “a very weird experiment with intimacy.” Cardiff explained the problem, “[I]t became too much like therapy. It was too much like counseling.” In the absence of familiarity, people are likely to fall recourse upon the closest familiar terrain they know. The private conversations with a stranger took on the attributes of a therapy or counseling context. Cardiff admitted being a little scared when “men [came] and [said] during the conversation that they had never talked intimately like that with anyone before…” Although she could see that people needed and wanted intimacy, she was not prepared to take on the burden and responsibility of having an intimate relationship with each of these participants. Cardiff basically found that she didn’t have the proper training to deal with the conversations. While the performances sprang out of a desire to deal with her “fear of intimacy,” interacting personally with the participants, ironically, convinced Cardiff to create a distance between herself and the viewer.
Although intimacy has remained a dominant theme in her works, the explicitly-named Intimacies performance was the last time Cardiff was physically present and interacting with the viewer/participant. After this “weird experiment,” Cardiff’s work veered away from direct contact with the viewers but retained the same intent of making an “honest connection.” At this time Cardiff’s path made the proverbial fork: eschewing bodily engagement and performance, Cardiff instead began to experiment with creating intimacy with the viewer/participant without being physically present. Cardiff’s first audio Walk, Forest Walk (1991), was made at the same time as Intimacies at the Banff Centre and became the prototype for her most renowned works. With the walks, Cardiff discovered ways to be intimate with the viewer without having to be there or as Cardiff puts it, “…I could talk to someone very closely, yet I was still protected.”
In The Paradise Institute, Cardiff and Miller offer intimacy, but without the presence of a body. Cardiff represents a contemporary definition of intimacy, one that does not rely upon the physical body; she absents her body and yet leaves the impression that her body has been there.