Exhibition Review: This house of books has no windows

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Husband and wife team Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have been collaborating for over a decade, representing Canada in the 2001 Venice Biennale culture festival. I wholeheartedly recommend seeing This House of Books has no Windows, their new exhibition. It is very much a fantasy world, far removed from the daily drudgery of our lives.

I was expecting the exhibition to be pretentious and over-serious, but it wasn’t. Designed to make you think, the installations also have a theatrical impact and a sense of humour that makes them enjoyable to see.

Cardiff and Bures Miller take inspiration from anything from Pretty Woman to modern rock music; the work of Samuel Beckett to the apparatus of capital punishment. Their use of multi-sensory techniques makes the exhibition into an interactive experience. In one installation, ‘The Dark Pool’, you enter a room within a room where discordant voices echo from gramophones activated by your movement.

Dim lighting, piles of books and clutter makes the room feel uncomfortably claustrophobic and other worldly. ‘The Killing Machine’ is a dental chair bizarrely covered in pink fur. Pressing a red button makes the chair begin a manic mechanical dance, accompanied by spinning lights and an eire soundtrack, which is not only visually spectacular but also politically provocative.

The whole exhibition is preoccupied with the idea of storytelling. Each piece submits the viewer to discordant voices which refuse to comply with one single interpretation.

Cardiff and Bures Miller challenge the observer to question their own sense of reality and the truth of the narrative of their life that they tell themselves and the stories told to us by others. Visiting This House of Books has no Windows is like being transported into a Tim Burton film set: a surreal combination of the sinister and the kitsch.

Four stars

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