Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Murder of Crows is currently at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum fur Gegenwart (Museum for Contemporary Art). This mixed media sound installation is set within the Museum’s historic hall, which was once part of a 19th century train station terminal. The gallery visitor enters this hall by passing through heavy red curtains to encounter a bold cacophony of sound. The impressive, yet stark setting underscores the intensely physical experience of listening to Cardiff and Miller’s 30 minute-long audial composition.
The Murder of Crows was inspired by Franciso de Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. This inspiration is manifest in the irrational and terrifying dreams Cardiff’s voice describes through a centrally-placed megaphone. The sound of birds flying and squawking, in addition to other soundscapes, help to further articulate the stories. The artist’s spoken voice is interpolated by both booming and soft musical compositions, often accompanied by singing. The almost mournful tone of the piece is inspired by the concept of the ‘crow funeral’, in which crows mourn the deaths of fellow crows by gathering and cawing around the deceased.
Listening replaces looking in what amounts to an incredibly visceral gallery experience.
The Canadian artist duo Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller currently live and work in both Grindrod, British Columbia, Canada and Berlin, Germany. Their work as been shown internationally since the 1990s. The Murder of Crows, currently the artists’ largest-ever sound installation, was first commissioned for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. It was brought to Berlin as a part of the Musikwerke Bildender Kunstler (Works of Music by Visual Artists) series and is on at the Nationalgalerie at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin through 17 May 2009.