Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in January 2016
Through January 18, 2015, the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) present the sound installation The Forty Part Motet by sound artist Janet Cardiff.
A stark row of speakers surrounding benches sets a minimal stage for a sound experience, and yet the nature of the work is extraordinarily personal, differing moment by moment, person to person.
Created in 2001, The Forty Part Motet reworks English composer Thomas Tallis’ (ca. 1505-1585) Spem in Alium. The 40 part choral work was performed by a choir in Salisbury Cathedral. An oval arrangement of 40 speakers plays back the individually recorded parts so that the participant can focus on a single voice or immerse themselves in the entire chorus based on where they are standing.
Cardiff insists that sound is sculpture. Born in Canada and living in British Columbia, Cardiff began studying photography and printmaking before embarking on her career in immersive multimedia works which have been celebrated around the world. Her site-specific audio walks first put her on the art world map in the 1990’s and she’s been an award winning artist ever since.
“Cardiff address of the audience as a single person, free to move on stage, is part of what makes her work so emotionally intense,” says Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at SFMOMA. “She creates a one-to-one relationship between the listener and a human voice that’s very intimate, even in a public setting.”
The public setting contributes to a one of a kind experience. The space, the time of day, and the sounds and movements of other people present effect an individual’s sensory relationship to the exhibit that can’t possibly be recreated. This relationship to disembodied human voices in real time, in this context, is both public, personal and completely unique each time. Among her public and private collections are two audio and visual works commissioned by SFMOMA. Chiaroscuro 1 (1997) was created for the exhibit Present Tense: Nine Artists in the Nineties and The Telelphone Call (2001) featured in 010101: Art in Technological Times.
“We are delighted to present Janet Cardiff’s remarkable masterpiece. This entrancing work has a legacy of inspiring audiences in settings ranging from the spare to the sacred”, said RIch Hillis, executive director of Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture. “Experiencing a 400-year-old motet in this historic space, within view of the San Francisco Bay, will be a powerful addition to that legacy.”