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If you have not experienced it yet, make a point to check out Janet Cardiff’s and George Bures Miller’s The Paradise Institute on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, Ohio through June 9, 2013. For anyone unfamiliar with their work, Cardiff and Miller create immersive experiences using various combinations of sound, “real” objects, film and site. The most consistent and potent element in their work is their use of sound as a means of playing with perceptions of time and place.
First presented in 2001 at the Venice Biennale Canadian Pavilion, The Paradise Institute is disconcerting in its ability to shift the viewer’s sense of reality. One enters an irregularly shaped plywood crate only to find the space expands to contain a completely believable twentieth-century movie-house including velvet upholstered seating. The movie attendees take their seats in a high, central balcony in the rear of the theater. In truth the mock theater contains only 17 full-scale seats with the remainder of the theater existing as a product of forced perspective and very careful model construction.
Once seated you as the “moviegoer” slip on a pair of headphones. This action at once connects the individual to the film and dislocates them from the other living and breathing audience members, as the layers of sound emanating from the headphones convincingly correspond to presumed audience noise and the movie soundtrack. Added to this aural experience your “friend,” who has apparently accompanied you to the theater, supplies an additional layer of dialogue. She leans in and whispers in a deep raspy voice. The effect is palpable. You jerk to the right, startled by the proximity and intimacy of her voice.
On screen a thirteen-minute Hitchcockian psychological thriller unfolds. The layers of sound and dialogue seem synchronisticaly intertwined. The characters of a male prisoner and a female nurse exude a charged sexuality that takes on Freudian implications, as the male character’s “dream” seems to mirror your own sense of an altered reality. In fact the collapse and disruption of space and time; the layered and poetic use of visual and spoken signifiers, combine with the believability of the experience to take on the qualities of a lucid dream. It creates the sort of dream that one ruminates over for hours after waking but whose meanings remain so dense and complex as to defy a single interpretation. Yet it is all an illusion, a construction of the artists’ making. Once fully realizing this unnerving fact, the complete immersion into this experience erodes our normal boundaries between fiction and reality.
The Paradise Institute runs through June 9, 2013.
Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland
11400 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
Lane Cooper, an Associate Professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art and practicing artist, holds an MFA in Painting. View more articles by Lane Cooper.