TACOMA.- Tacoma Art Museum presents the award-winning sound installation The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff, 2001, A Re-working of Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui 1573, by Thomas Tallis through September 7, 2008.
The Forty Part Motet is a forty-channel sound installation that recreates a performance of Talliss most complex choral arrangement. Eight groups of five speakers arranged in a large oval allow visitors to experience the choral composition from the vantage of the individual performers. Editions of the installation are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and is a promised gift from the Pamela and Richard Kramlich collection to the Tate, London.
Originally commissioned for the 2001 Salisbury Festival in England, The Forty Part Motet is one of Cardiffs most recognized works and has been exhibited widely throughout Europe and Canada. For the installation, Cardiff received the Millennium Prize in 2001 for international excellence in contemporary art from the National Gallery of Canada, and Artforum magazine featured the work in the Best of 2003 issue in December 2003. The Forty Part Motet debuted in New York at P.S.1 with the internationally traveling exhibition Janet Cardiff: A Survey of Works, Including Collaborations with George Bures Miller. It was recently on view at MOMA in 2006. The Forty Part Motet is included in a currently traveling survey of Cardiff Miller works,The Killing Machine and Other Stories, on view at the Miami Art Museum through January 20, 2008.
"Janet Cardiffs The Forty Part Motet is a stunning and daring work of art, said Rock Hushka, Director of Curatorial Administration and Curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art at Tacoma Art Museum. The installation uses cutting-edge computer technology to recreate a concert performance of a Renaissance composition. Its visual presentation alludes to the intellectual rigor of minimal art, yet Cardiff creates an incredible tension, combining a minimalist visual precedent with a virtuosic performance of a divine text."
Cardiff arranged the forty speakers in a large oval to allow visitors to experience Talliss music as it was written and comprehend how the choirs echo phrases and passages of the text. Cardiff explains:
"While listening to a concert, you are normally seated in front of the choir, in traditional audience position. With this piece I want the audience to be able to experience a piece of music from the viewpoint of the singers. Every performer hears a unique mix of the piece of music. Enabling the audience to move throughout the space allows them to be intimately connected with the voices. It also reveals the piece of music as a changing construct. As well, I am interested in how sound may physically construct a space in a sculptural way and how a viewer may choose a path through this physical yet virtual space."
Cardiffs installation presents the music in a radically different experience from a recorded performance. Before the music begins, visitors hear the choirs preparations, fragments of conversations, and the choir leaders comments. The choir then begins to perform Talliss composition with the first solitary phrase and swells to include all forty voices. In a museum setting, each visitor synthesizes the stark visual presentation of the black speakers and the emotional impact of Renaissance music.
"This installation gives visitors an opportunity to directly connect with each individual voice and experience Talliss composition as it was originally envisioned," said Hushka. "The Forty Part Motet provides an opportunity to experience multiple perceptions of a single choral composition as visitors move from one speaker to another or stands at the center of the room. Visitors will feel the architecture of the music as Tallis intended."
Cardiff recorded the Salisbury Cathedral Choirs performance of Talliss Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui with each of the forty voices on a separate channel. Spem in Alium marked the highpoint of Talliss choral compositions. The twelve-minute choral composition requires eight choirs of five voices (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass) and was likely composed in response to the new Italian styles slowly coming into England in the late sixteenth century. A devout Catholic, Tallis served four Tudor monarchs, including the Protestant Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Music historians are unsure of the precise origins of Spem in Alium and are divided over the meaning of the work. Some argue that it was written for the fortieth birthday of Mary Queen of Scotts because the text may be read as an allegory of the Catholic struggle against the surge of Protestantism. Others argue that it commemorated the fortieth birthday of the Protestant Elizabeth I.
"The Forty Part Motet is a wonderful pairing with our other exhibition that will be on view at the same time, Illuminating the Word: The Saint Johns Bible," said Tacoma Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich. "In addition to the obvious spiritual connection of both exhibitions, the two take something that is historic and sacred and reexamine it through a modern lens. The Saint Johns Bible embraces the medieval tradition of handwritten Bibles with text in English (instead of Latin) and incorporates modern imagery in the illuminated text."
Based in Berlin and Grindrod, British Columbia, Janet Cardiff combines sound, movement, and the environment and uses film, video, and photography in her work. She participated in the Skulptur Projekte Münster in 1997 and exhibited in the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh in 1999. She also represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 2001 in collaboration with George Bures Miller. A major survey of Cardiff Miller works has toured to P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York, the Musée dart contemporain de Montréal, the Astrup Fearnley Museet for Moderne Kunst in Oslo, and Castello di Rivoli, Museo dArte Contemporanea in Turin. In 2006, the Louisiana Museum for Moderne Kunst in Humlebæk, Denmark, presented Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Cardiff and Millers second internationally traveling survey The Killing Machine and Other Stories originated at the Museu dArt Contemporani de Barcelona and traveled to the Institute Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt, Germany, and the Miami Art Museum. Upcoming projects include participation in the 16th Sidney Biennial and survey exhibitions at The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Modern Art Oxford. Cardiff is currently represented by Luhring Augustine Gallery in New York and Barbara Weiss Gallery in Berlin.
The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff was originally produced by Field Art Projects with the Arts Council of England, Canada House, the Salisbury Festival and Salisbury Cathedral Choir, BALTIC Gateshead, The New Art Gallery, Walsall, and the NOW Festival, Nottingham. Sung by Salisbury Cathedral Choir. Recording and Postproduction by SoundMoves. Edited by George Bures Miller. Produced by Field Art Projects.