Sound and Documentary in Cardiff and Miller's Pandemonium

Words Drawn in Water and Synchronic History

Words Drawn in Water never convinces as time travel, nor does it mean to. The narrative is partly a pretense to keep the user in close proximity with the artist’s sonic presence. The trompe l’oreille illusion depends on, “how our body reacts to the intimacy of this other body layered on top.” [241] Using sound, Cardiff convinces our bodies to adopt her gait and mirror her breathing. We begin not only to see and hear but also to feel, both in terms of sensuous tactility and embodied emotion. She makes our nervous systems receptive and malleable to sensory experiences and their affects. In this way, the walk primes the user’s body for interpersonal contact, much in the manner ascribed by Leja to trompe l’oeil paintings[242] Cardiff’s walks trigger this intimate affect not by palpably rendered things, but through invisible waves of sound. By the end of the walk, the listener is charged with longing for intimate, interpersonal communion for which the only target is an ambiguous, personal narrative about a symbolically-laden, ideologically-charged public place. 
The walk layers documentary fragments and paradigmatic associations with past, present, and future topographies of the site. Making sense of these elusive materials is a possible outlet for the somatic desire to connect. More than a pretense, the fictional narrative of time travel suggests concrete ways in which interrelation across time and distance could be, in fact, quite plausible and near at hand like the droplet of water that migrated from the nineteenth century into your mouth. Given the pun with James Smithson’s surname, the wedge of sky-reflecting mirror likely references Robert Smithson’s 1969 essay Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan and related artworks in which he attempted to disintegrate nineteenth-century narratives of progress and positivism. [243] As art historian Jennifer Roberts argues in her 2004 book Mirror-Travels: Robert Smithson and History, Smithson’s mirrors, “act literally to decompose or to ruin the illusion of continuous space,” subverting a perspectival system structured to control and systemize spatial, sensory, and thereby social relationships. [244]
Cardiff invokes Smithson not only in stream-of-consciousness word play but, crucially, to invoke his efforts at “cancelling historical time” by embracing a crystalline model of ruin and renewal in which history does not unfold in a linear progression but enfolds in its own dynamic, enveloping, cyclical processes. [245] Like Smithson, Cardiff and Miller offer a robust critique of models of history that would configure documentary evidence into a totalizing and anthropocentric teleology of progress. Words Drawn in Water makes an argument that time does not recede irrevocably along a singular trajectory into the past. It sets out to demonstrate how past and future events suspend dynamically together in specific material environments grounded more or less fleetingly in a particular time and place. [246] Cardiff and Miller train the percipient’s awareness on the multiple, ongoing histories—some private and some public, some documented and some intuited or imagined—that compress at any given moment within a bounded physical environment. The percipient is invited, through the audio walk’s trompe l’oreille illusion, to sense residual presences of other sensing bodies in the physical substance of that given environment, whether through consideration of visible objects or invisible forces. These sensations trigger desire for intimate connection which invite the user to reflect in a more careful and sustained way on her own complex relationship to that place in which she is briefly enmeshed. Acts of memory take shape not as some retrospective projection into a separate past, then, but through sustained corporeal meditation on the sensible substances of a particular, experiential present.  
Pandemonium continued these efforts by Cardiff and Miller to create an experience of feeling so close to someone else, “that you’re really there.” Its live, sonic assault absorbed the percipient’s body in an intimate encounter with Eastern State Penitentiary’s physical environment, replete as it was with historical materials that were also concretely of that place in the present. Cardiff and Miller used the conventions of programme music combined with the suggestive power of the Romantic ruin to reel percipients into an entertaining illusion that cellblock seven was haunted by ghosts who reenacted a fantastical version of their own histories. While the ghostly illusion was unconvincing, its intriguing mechanics sustained the percipient’s attention. All the while, noise triggered forceful, sensory response until its sheer volume pulled the rug out from the illusion altogether, landing the percipient concretely in the here and now. At the same time, the artists loaded the composition with signifiers from the history of noise music. This spectrum of noise—alarmingly loud and whisperingly soft, harbinger of conflict and of congregation—penetrated the percipient’s body, revealing it to be continuous with the cellblock’s acoustical space and material history. 

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