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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Janet Cardiff, Off with Her Head

Maybe it’s due to the summertime dearth of art world activities, but Janet Cardiff’s work is popping up all over this week. Seeing one of her pieces, though, is no longer at the top my list of things to do this weekend.

Cardiff’s Internet project Eyes of Laura received a tepid review from Sarah Boxer in the NY Times earlier this week. Greg chimed in today with a riff on Cardiff’s work and on Boxer’s piece, mentioning that the 33,000 art world insiders who subscribe to the e-flux mailing list are already in on the site’s secret.

I’ve seen significantly less coverage, though, on what looks to be a truly interesting project—Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s installation Pandemonium (at right) at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. From the e-flux press release for this work (does Cardiff do anything that doesn’t get e-fluxed?):
Cardiff and Miller will present Pandemonium in Cell Block Seven, a massive, cathedral-like, two-story wing completed in 1836. It has never been open to the public, and has been stabilized especially for this exhibition. . . . Using the existing elements in the prison cells Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have made the entire Cellblock Seven into a giant musical instrument, producing a percussive site work. This instrument, controlled by a computer and midi system, is made up of one hundred and twenty separate beaters hitting disparate objects such as toilet bowls, light fixtures and bedside tables found within the prison cells. The composition begins subtly as if two prisoners are trying to communicate and then moves through an abstract soundscape and lively dance beats until it reaches a riot-like crescendo.
I had made tentative plans to piggyback a visit to ESP onto a trip I was supposed to make to that area on Saturday, but then I saw mention on the website that children under seven are not allowed into the facility. I tried pulling the few short strings that I have, but no luck. They won’t let me in if I have the kid with me. It’s a city of Philadelphia rule, supposedly. Can the government really deny admission to a public facility because of a person’s age? If I want my Cardiff fix I guess I’ll have to remain satisfied with a Cardiff-led walk through Central Park.

It’s probably for the better anyway that I’m not going to ESP because now I come to find out that this Saturday is the day for their annual Bastille Day celebration.
This year’s event will culminate on Saturday, July 16th at 5:30 PM when dozens of French revolutionaries, armed with muskets and cannon, and singing “La Marseilles,” storm the grim walls of “the Bastille” (Eastern State Penitentiary) and drag Marie Antoinette to a real, functioning guillotine, built for the occasion.
I’ve heard that in past years Marie Antoinette has thrown Twinkies to the crowd from her position on the parapet prior to the storming of the walls. Let them eat cake, indeed. No mention is made, though, of whether or not the crowd gets to parade her head around on a pike after she visits the guillotine.

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