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The Paradise Institute

Janet Cardiff, George Bures Miller
The Paradise Institute, 2001
Audio, video, mixed media installation
3 x 12 x 5,1 m
Anonymous gift, 2002

Since the presentation of The Paradise Institute in the Canada Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2001, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have become one of the most prominent teams in the international art world. At Venice, the artists received La Biennale di Venezia Special Award. The prize was bestowed for "involving the audience in a new cinematic experience where fiction and reality, technology and the body converge into multiple and shifting journeys through space and time."

Cardiff and Miller divide their time between Lethbridge and Berlin. Each artist has an independent career, but they have always assisted and supported each other. Cardiff won the Millennium Prize in 2001 for Forty-Part Motet, a reworking of Spem in Alium, a polyphonic choral music score composed by Thomas Tallis, presented at the National Gallery of Canada as part of the exhibition Elusive Paradise.

In The Paradise Institute Cardiff and Miller continue to investigate perception and immersive environments. With this work they focus on the language and experience of cinema. Viewers approach a simple plywood pavilion, they mount a set of stairs and enter a lush, dimly-lit interior complete with red carpet and two rows of velvet seats. Once seated, they peer over the balcony onto a miniature replica of a grand old movie theatre. This is the first in a series of illusions orchestrated by Cardiff and Miller. Viewers then put on the headphones provided and the 13-minute projection begins.

At least two stories run simultaneously. There is the "visual film" and its accompanying soundtrack that unfolds before the viewers; layered over this is the "aural action" of a supposed audience. The film is a mix of genres: it is part film noir, part thriller, part sci-fi, and part experimental film. What is more particular about the installation is the personal binaural "surround sound" each individual in the audience experiences through the headphones. The sense of isolation each might experience is interrupted by intrusions seemingly coming from inside the theatre. A cell phone belonging to a member of the audience rings. A close female friend whispers intimately in your ear, "Did you check the stove before we left?" Fiction and reality become intermingled as absorption in the film is suspended, and other realities flow in.

Through their use of the miniature theatre and binaural sound, where one senses that sounds are coming from particular directions, Cardiff and Miller continue the artistic tradition of illusionism. Whether through the use of perspective to invite a viewer to enter "into the painting," or more contemporary immersive practices such as virtual reality, the artists seek not only to explore how sound affects visual perception and the body, but also to jar the expectations that we bring with us to the movies.