JANET CARDIFF at Oakville Galleries/Gairloch Gardens (1306 Lakeshore East, Oakville) until November 4. 905-844-4402. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
how very canadian. the first Canuck to win a Special Jury Prize at the most prestigious of international art arenas, the Venice Biennale, is relatively unknown in her home and native land. The 2001 prize went to Lethbridge, Alberta-based Brussels, Ontario, native Janet Cardiff, working in collaboration with her husband and finally fully credited partner, George Bures Miller, for The Paradise Institute, the latest in a revolutionary series of "audio walks" that have taken Europe by storm.
Cardiff and the Cardiff/Miller team have done site-specific walks, including a commissioned piece for the opening of the Tate Modern (the art world's big deal for 2000). The closest audio walk to Toronto is in Oakville, where Oakville Galleries commissioned a walk for their glorious Gairloch Gardens.
With the Venice Biennale on the horizon, Oakville Galleries wisely opted to launch a catalogue for A Large Slow River, created last summer and presented last fall. They've also remounted the installation, which is now part of their permanent collection.
The titular River isn't the little creek flowing into Lake Ontario on the gallery grounds, but time, which, Einstein noted, flows at different rates in different places, like water.
Canada Council director Shirley Thomson describes these audio walks as a new cinematic experience where fiction and reality, technology and the body converge into multiple and shifting journeys through space and time.
The way Cardiff and Miller play with the evocative power of sound owes a lot to fellow Canadian superstar Glenn Gould, who pioneered the oral tone poem concept for his 1967 Centennial project, The Idea Of North (the first of his famous Solitude Trilogy of radio documentaries).
Cardiff and Miller expand the North formula by setting their composition on a particular location and then physically leading the viewer through the site. This creates a 3-D visual element, and the effect, here, of sharing Cardiff's stray thoughts and memories as she wanders through the garden is mesmerizing.
The piece riffs off John Cage at his best when her voice says, "Now walk with me back to the gallery" moments before the recording ends and viewers are left to contemplate their own sight-triggered memories.