Lost in the Memory Palace

Written by: Trisha Li

Edited by: Anonymous

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Lost in the Memory Palace @ VAG June 21 – September 21, 2014

Lost in the Memory Palace by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller is an exhibition that was shown at the Vancouver Art Gallery from June 21 – September 21, 2014. The exhibition is made up of nine rooms, each of which tell its own story, and represent different fragments of memories. As a theatre student, I am interested in how aspects of performance art are included in this piece, and will be reviewing it from this perspective.

Lost in the Memory Palace 2014

Lost in the Memory Palace by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Installation View: “Opera for a Small Room” 2014. Photo Credit: Trisha Li.

In each room, Cardiff and Miller use sound technologies and visual technologies to create the different settings. These rooms are called, “Opera for a Small Room”, “The Muriel Lake Incident”, “Experiment in F# Minor”, “Road Trip”, “The Dark Pool”, “Storm Room”, “Killing Machine”, “Kathmandu”, and “The Forty Part Motet”. One of the rooms that interested me was Road Trip. When I walked in,I saw a projector in the middle of the room, shining at a projector screen. There were also a few rows of chairs set up for people to sit on to watch the slideshow. I took a seat, and watched images of Canada flash across the screen. I also listened to the audio recording that went along with the slides, which consisted of a male and female speaking about a cross-Canada road trip that one of their grandfathers had taken. The audience eventually realizes that these individuals are going through these old photographs that were taken on that road trip, and rearranging some of them that are out of order. My favourite room was the Storm Room. When I entered this room, the first thing I saw was the outer construction of a house. I also heard the sounds of the storm and saw glass panels attached to the house, where the water ran down. Inside the house there were numerous windows, where the water and lighting effects could be seen, and buckets on the floor, to collect dripping water. Additionally, to create a realistic house setting, there was a sink in one corner and a fan in the other, as well as things pasted on the wall. As I progressed through the rest of the rooms, all of them struck me as intricately designed, and drew me into the different intended environments.

Theatre is often thought of as a performance, consisting of actors who are telling a story, through the representation of characters. Despite this common assumption of what theatre is, I think that Cardiff and Miller’s exhibit should be considered theatre. Theatre pieces often have a script, which can be considered text. However, everything that the spectator takes in visually and aurally, from the set design to the costumes on the actors, can be considered text. In other words, text is a form of communication to the audience. Furthermore, it seems as if Cardiff and Miller are using their visual representation of memories as a form of text. The text in each room has a different effect on each participant, and causes different stories to be created within the minds of the audience. These mental stories allow each individual to become aware of his or her presence and the presence of others in the room. Therefore, he or she is no longer just a spectator of the art, but a part of the art. The visual and sound technologies provoke sensory experiences, which are significant to how the piece is viewed. These effects also affect the audience’s sense of time. In all of the rooms, I felt like time had come to a standstill. This was a very non-illusionistic experience, because I was aware of myself, and the room in real time. Additionally, each spectator’s sense of time and story is based on the relationship between the effects and themselves. However, the illusions that the visual and sound technologies create do not create a set story that we need to buy into. Cardiff and Miller are trying to encourage our imaginations and help us to see fragments of our own memories within each room. When I was in the Storm Room, I felt like I had been transported to Japan. I was reminded of the time that I had gone on an exchange to Yokohama, and I compared the home that I had stayed in, to the Storm Room. Similarly, when an individual goes to see a theatre show, they bring their own stories and experiences. That is partly why, going to see a play is considered a social event. Theatre provokes discussion on issues, and a show is successful when people are able to leave the show with different interpretations and experiences, and formulate conversation out of it.

Through Cardiff and Miller’s exploration of visual and sound technologies, with different aspects of text, time, and personal story, Lost in the Memory Palace succeeds in creating rooms, which involved the spectators as participants. Furthermore, Cardiff and Miller used aspects of theatre to create an environment and ambiance that allowed the viewers to be fully connected and involved in each room. Therefore, Lost in the Memory Palace was an exhibit of theatre.


Adams, James. “Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Art that ‘gets right into the soul.’” The Globe and Mail (2013). Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

Laurence, Robin. “Cardiff and Miller’s Lost in the Memory Palace is an Unsettling Journey.” The Georgia Straight (2014). Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

Morgan-Feir, Caoimhe. “‘Lost in the Memory Palace’ – Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.” Frieze Magazine (2013). Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

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