Lost in the Memory Palace

Written by: Natasha Chau

Edited by: Wan Hang Tsang

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: Lost in the Memory Palace @ Vancouver Art Gallery. June 21 – September 21, 2014

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s exhibit, Lost in the Memory Palace at the Vancouver Art Gallery, involves spectator-interaction installations that run on a constant loop. Cardiff and Miller focus on the binaural environment that accompanies videos and physical material installations. The pieces work to trigger personal memories or events by using sound events and soundscapes that connect the spectator to the artwork.

The environment of the Vancouver Art Gallery is very welcoming to all ages. I went to the exhibit on a Tuesday night when the admission is by donation; therefore, there were more people than usual. The spectators are free to roam throughout the rooms whenever they like. The installations are spread throughout the third floor of the art gallery in the main hallway or in separate rooms. The rooms are laid out in the form of an oval, where it is possible to view all of the pieces in a row. However, there is one piece in the exhibit that requires spectators to line up. Since this was a rather busy Tuesday night, I did not get the chance to view this particular piece because the line up would have taken over an hour and the exhibit would have closed by then.

The installations include all aspects of different interdisciplinary areas such as visual art, film, and music, and sound. The two pieces that stood out to me the most were The Muriel Lake Incident and Storm Room. The Muriel Lake Incident reminds me of having an annoying audience member speaking during a film. The installation looks like a theatre with seats on the floor and some in the balcony. This piece is very relatable because of the inviting presence it gives. The video loop is projected on to the screen of the mini-theatre and the sound is played through headphones. The use of headphones is necessary because of the way Cardiff and Miller process the recording with spatial recognition. Voices could be heard as if someone was whispering into your ear or if people were speaking behind you.

The Lake Muriel Incident by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Vancouver Art Gallery. 2014

The Lake Muriel Incident by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Vancouver Art Gallery. 2014

The second installation that really resonated with me was the Storm Room. The Storm Room was in a room of its own in the art gallery. Standing inside the Storm Room, there is a very rundown look with water running down the windows and a dark atmosphere. This installation had the most indistinguishable loop. It was very difficult to determine where I had entered after the peak of the piece. Storm Room has a very intricate set-up because of the use of water running down the outside of the room’s windows. There is something very calming about the sound of the storm. For lighting, there is only one lighting fixture hanging in the room and any exterior light came from the thunder that accompanied the rain.

There was one very uncomfortable situation that occurred while I roamed through one of the rooms with a video loop. The chairs were uncontrollably squeaky so it was annoying when people would sit down or get up at anytime during the loop because it was so loud. This was especially bothersome because the video had a very calm tone and the chairs were distracting from that. I feel that the art gallery could have selected different chairs because I do not believe that was intentional to have loud chairs. Because of this, I could not appreciate the piece as much as I would have, and also caused me to leave before the end of the video.

I really enjoy Cardiff and Miller’s use of sound in their installations. The well thought out sound events help set the tone of the pieces. The audio encourages the spectators to trigger their own memories to connect themselves to the art. The openness of the exhibit makes the event more casual as well as allowing infrequent art gallery visitors to proceed at their own pace without any set time limit. I found the physical material installations that accompanied sound to be more effective than just looped videos. It adds dimension and the fact that the spectators are able to place themselves into the art gives a stronger presence, as well as a convincing, attracting nature. Overall, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s Lost in the Memory Palace exhibit has a darker and remorseful atmosphere that appears in all of the installations that is carefully executed through the us of sound. I would definitely consider attending the exhibit again in the future, where it could be possible for me to have different interpretations of the pieces in another time in my life.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller. “The Lake Muriel Incident”, 1999. Video. 5 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller. “Storm Room”, 2009. Video. 2.5 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.


Hanssen, Tina. “The Whispering Voice: Materiality, aural qualities and the reconstruction of memories in the works of Janet Cardiff and Georges Bures Miller.” Music, Sound, and the Moving Image. 4.1 (2010): 36-54. EBSCO HOST. Web. 16 Oct 2014.

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