Whispering Room
art installation by Janet Cardiff
Art Gallery of Ontario

The installation consists of sixteen roughly ear level speakers each telling different parts of a narrative. To the aural aspect is added a film projection triggered by the “viewer’s” movement in the room. The order in which one hears the various parts of the narrative is determined by the course taken through the room and the extent of the attention paid to individual speakers.

Some of the speakers stand on their own, others in duos or trios, so that if you position yourself amongst a cluster it is as if you are standing in the midst of someone else’s conversation, whereas if you listen to one speaker, it is more as if you are being hailed, personally, by someone. The voices are not those of trained actors but rather resemble the affected non-modulation, or non-affect (an affected lack of affect), of dialogue in Hal Hartley films.

It isn’t possible to piece together a whole story. Gaps in the narrative have to be filled in, extrapolated from the information available. There is no director and editor to guide you through in a predetermined way.

Walking through the room is by turns like suddenly having a stranger whisper in your ear unannounced (until the announcement); overhearing a private conversation; having your attention grabbed out of nowhere by someone as yet unknown to you; sitting in the white noise of a room full of different conversations. Every voice, however, is the voice of the artist, and so the white noise is altered a bit, which draws attention to what real “white noise” is—a mix of different sounds or voices, a testament to human plurality, and also to the world’s background noises, of human and non-human source. The human condition of plurality, of course, combined with the unpredictable variables contributed by nature or the non-human world, mean that experiences and interpretations of stories and events will vary. Which, I guess, is part of what this installation hopes to “say.” —FC