As their work often does, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s Opera For A Small Room plays with the mind.
JANET CARDIFF AND GEORGE BURES MILLER at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to August 18. $19.50, srs $16, stu $11, free Wednesday 6 to 8:30 pm. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNNN
"Visual arts" seems an inadequate term for the work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. The internationally renowned Canadian couple's time- and mind-bending installations - environments equipped with music and spatially oriented sound recordings that trick the brain into perceiving them as real - could be viewed as actorless theatrical or cinematic performances.
Lost In The Memory Palace brings together seven installations in a fourth-floor multiplex, from Cardiff and Miller's first collaboration, 1995's The Dark Pool, a cluttered room where some arcane research is under way, to 2013's Experiment In F# Minor, a table on which 72 bowl-shaped speakers play surprisingly harmonious music triggered by viewers' shadows.
Like The Dark Pool, several of the installations are lairs of obsessive collectors who've jury-rigged mazes of odd objects. Opera For A Small Room, involving a male voice pining for a lost woman, snippets of music and a train, takes place inside a chipboard shack crammed with vinyl LPs and flashing light fixtures.
The Killing Machine conjures a more ominous persona, an executioner who's fabricated a cube of old and new technology centring on a fleece-covered reclining chair. The button we press to activate the show, in which two raptor-like robotic arms perform a riveting dance over their chair-bound imaginary prey, makes us complicit in the murderous enterprise.
Storm Room, another room within a room, is at once a shelter from and source of the downpour, recycling water that drips from the ceiling and sheets down between double windows as thunder cracks overhead. In Road Trip, the artists abandon personae to narrate a slide show of Miller's grandfather's seemingly mundane, faded travel images, gradually revealing a desperate backstory.
After these intense, sometimes dark experiences, head to the second floor, where Henry Moore's rearranged sculptures listen along outside the oval of 40 speakers that make up Cardiff's 40 Part Motet, each playing the voice of one singer in a performance of a Renaissance choral work, a celestial tribute to the transformative power of art.