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- 1 2015-08-16T21:34:04-07:00 Cecilia Wichmann 570c894159ad998517c62537a60758b7099e0270 All Audio Cecilia Wichmann 3 gallery 2015-10-04T17:15:09-07:00 Cecilia Wichmann 570c894159ad998517c62537a60758b7099e0270
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Pandemonium for its percipients in a peripatetic confrontation with Eastern State Penitentiary. Located in Philadelphia’s downtown Cherry Hill neighborhood, the site was an operational prison from 1829 through 1971 then abandoned and reopened as a prison museum in 1994.  Its eleven acres are enclosed by imposing perimeter walls.  The penitentiary faces Fairmont Avenue, a broad east-west thoroughfare that turns to parkway half a mile due west along the Schuylkill River, where it winds past two other stalwarts in Philadelphia’s modernizing city infrastructure—the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Fairmont Water Works. One enters the penitentiary at its formidable south wall, a “severe and ordered” surface, 30-feet high and built of “long, very carefully jointed and coursed stone.”  Massive scale and medieval-inspired details like crenelated turrets suggest both fortress and ecclesiastical complex, “[injecting] notes of the heroic and sublime” consonant with its Romantic period conception. Within the walls, 15 cellblocks, constructed piecemeal between 1822 and 1959, reveal themselves gradually. From the prison yard, the visitor enters the outer limit of a cellblock and traverses its length to a large octagonal space. Here the penitentiary’s radial plan becomes suddenly clear. Cellblocks extend from this central observation room, like spokes on a wheel. Free of partitions, the hub provides sightlines down the central axes of seven cellblocks original to architect John Haviland’s (1792–1852) plan. Haviland conceived this design to promote, “watching, convenience, economy, and ventilation,” for the purpose of administering an especially hygienic panopticon.  Cellblock seven, where Pandemonium held court, is the last built under Haviland’s supervision in 1836 and, “arguably the most visually dramatic block at Eastern State Penitentiary.” Barrel-vaulted like a cathedral, cellblock seven is 356 feet long, 30 feet high, and crowned by three colossal skylights. 131 cells flank a central aisle at ground level and in recessed upper galleries. According to Cardiff, the artists chose this space for its “high arched ceilings, two storeys of cells and beautiful skylights.”  Cells repeat one after another in parallel rows, facing across an aisle. Narrow, rectilinear doorframes echo the orderly balusters of upper gallery railings. A balcony stretches between second-story catwalks, its sweeping vista culminating in a rounded, vertical window above the outer door, a luminous recapitulation of the cellblock’s overall form. The block appears perfectly symmetrical, partitioned into equal, isolated units much as the individual person within was to be smoothed and reformed body and mind to the civic ensemble. Order now crumbles at the level of the unit, however; inside, each cell is a picture of material disintegration.Being in the space is only obliquely suggestive of prisoners’ experiences. The site instead provides a visual record of ways in which history folds in on itself. The air is cool and damp, stilled by the museum’s conventional hush made yet more solemn by the subject of incarceration. When operations were suspended in 1971, Eastern State Penitentiary was left to decay until the late 1980s.  Its selective restoration as a “stabilized ruin”—a curious, late-twentieth-century adaptation of a Romantic conceit—rendered it accessible for tours in 1994.  Now layers of paint peel and plaster flakes from walls. Dust and odd remnants of furniture co-mingle in the cells, left over from multiple periods in the site’s 142 years as a dwelling. Cells are left in disrepair or selectively restored to approximate appearances at certain decades. Didactic wall panels mediate the visitor’s interpretation, as does “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour, included in admission, with its blend of documentary detail and sensational information about celebrity inmates and the site’s use as a film set. 
Visitors more than likely heard Pandemonium before reaching cellblock seven.  Parts of the composition are terribly loud.  One might enter the corridor at any point in the sixteen-minute loop, beckoned by its sounds or following a tour route. How to attend, from which vantage and for how long, were decisions largely up to the individual. One person might stand transfixed through multiple cycles, at the entrance to the block or deep within the space. Another might wander up and down the cellblock for one full cycle, turn immediately to leave, or come and go freely, listening at a slight remove. The visual effect of the cellblock is so powerfully stunning, moreover, that taking it in may have, at first, overwhelmed efforts to listen. Pandemonium involved not only listening and looking but also moving the body and feeling vibrations of sound pass from the ground through the feet and through the air to one’s skin and hairs. These many simultaneous modes of sensing the artwork would have been impossible fully to disentangle even when they conveyed conflicting information.
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Pandemonium is a pivotal project for Cardiff and Miller who are married and have been partnered personally and artistically since the early 1980s. They met at the University of Alberta where Cardiff was an MFA student in printmaking and Miller an undergraduate painting student.  Their first collaboration was a feature-length Super 8 film.  In 1986 Miller completed a Photo Electric Arts program at Ontario College of Art and Design through which the couple had access to computer technology, film equipment, and a sound studio.  Though neither trained in school as a musician, Miller plays guitar and is something of an audiophile.  In the 1990s, Miller explored kinetic sculpture and Cardiff began to create the audio walks for which she would garner increasing acclaim.  They mutually assisted one another, but authorship rested with the individual who conceptualized the piece and led its execution.  Their first public collaboration The Dark Pool (video clip) debuted in 1995, and in 2001 they represented Canada at the Venice Biennale together with another collaborative piece, The Paradise Institute (video clip).Cardiff and Miller persistently use technological devices to simulate a sense of proximity with bodies absent or nonhuman. These experiences seem designed to trigger in audience members a sense of real interdependence with the material world accompanied by profound longing for intimacy. Cardiff frequently uses recordings of the human voice channeled through subtly anthropomorphic audio speakers to achieve this effect. Her installation To Touch (1993), for example, features an old, wooden table with photocells hidden in its invitingly worn, tactile surface.  By running a hand across, users elicit an aural collage out of speakers mounted at ear level around the parameter of the room. Voices seem to converse and, in their pauses, to listen to one another.  To Touch heightens and conjugates the bodily sensations of touch and hearing to explore the extent to which modern hierarchies of vision have pacified the body and dematerialized its experiences of the world. 
Miller’s sculptures such as Simple Experiments in Aerodynamics 6 (Escape Velocity) (1998) are spare, cyborg-like contraptions akin to the Pandemonium beaters. These induce a sense of bodily interdependence through motion.  Computer-controlled pistons actuate Escape Velocity’s spindly floor lamp suspended upside-down by its base. It swings out on a frenzied, centrifugal trajectory, reminding the percipient of the extent to which balance is precariously relational. Like the electro-mechanical system at the heart of Pandemonium, Miller’s sculptures emphasize bodily entanglement with forces human and nonhuman, organic and inorganic.
More recently, Cardiff used the affective qualities of choral music to conjure presence in 2001 for The Forty Part Motet (video clip), for which she separately recorded each of the forty parts of Thomas Tallis’s 1573 choral masterpiece “Spem in Alium” (“Hope in Any Other”) and played them back through forty standing speakers, one for each channel.  The speakers surround the listener, each suggesting the person whose voice it transmits, and the listener moves at will from intimate proximity to immersion in their ensemble.