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Janet Cardiff Sound Walk and Reading Response

For several hours after I finished Her Long Black Hair, Janet Cardiff’s Central Park sound walk combining field recording, found object and narrative techniques of film noir, I felt a heightened awareness of the world around me, a sense that both the aural and visual information I was consuming had hidden narratives, meanings unknown to me, entire words and lives just beyond the field of my comprehension. This sense of hidden but pulsating alive connectivity is the central goal of Cardiff’s work: to create connections within time between the walker/listener and the spaces and strangers around them, and to create connections across time, between the walker/listener, the woman with black hair, Orpheus descending into Hades to rescue Eurydice, and Cardiff herself, connecting and condensing these moments of time and myth into a gem of experiential authenticity.

Frequently there would be moments in which I felt moved or I could not tell whether or not the sounds I was hearing were in my headphones or coming from the world around me, but there are three distinct moments during my walk that stand out to me. Early on a dog walker passed me and almost immediately afterward Cardiff said “a dog just passed”. I shivered, it felt like falling into a vortex outside of time. The second moment came when a gate had been put up along a path Cardiff instructed me to go down and it took almost ten minutes of audio time for me to find my way back onto the path.  This completely dispelled my connection to the work, and I became very aware of how important my sense of place with respect to the piece was for consuming it. Lastly, at the very end of my walk, at the place designated for the fifth photograph and at the moment Cardiff asked the listener to synchronize your breathing with hers, I came across a couple making out. A total disruption, an impediment far greater than any gate to completing the experience as narrated but a discovery so unexpected that it filled me with wonder. Had there been couples making out in the bushes all around me, all along?

Brief statement on readings:

Cardiff’s work is a good example of the movement of art that Jonathan Lethem is referencing in The Ecstasy of Influence when he discusses artists who try to “make the familiar strange”. A walk in the park becomes a mythological allegory tying you to a mysterious woman, found photographs become an invitation to adventure, all while demonstrating the power of ‘plagiarism’ and remix in making use of an aural collage of field recording and found object. Had she feared a copyright lawsuit for the use of the photos this work would not have been possible.

I had seen Everything Is A Remix by Kirby Ferguson quite a few years ago, but even when I first saw it it seemed that the concept of originality was a myth connected to the cult of the individual, that if you inspected anything closely enough the historical and social through-lines would be seen throughout like dense connective tissue. Yet even though I never want to admit it even now I still dream that one day I will come up with a wholly original idea.