Monday, September 12, 2005

Janet Cardiff - Her long black hair

Wow, that was quite an interesting experience. I initially expected to be led through a story centered on the woman with the long black hair, an audio tour incorporating the park, the city as well as the provided props. While there was a bit of a narrative, the story provided a base for Ms. Cardiff's musings. As she guided me on the walk, she noted some of the park's features and history in addition to allowing herself to wonder out loud. The effect was much like taking a stroll with a friend who, in the course of telling you a long story, is occasionally interrupted. The odd thing was that some of the things she paused to note weren't actually there. It was uncanny when her timing was spot-on--for instance, when she nudged me to take the right trail at a fork in the path.

At the beginning of the walk, one of the first things she mentions is that one has to become adjusted to the "symphony" of sounds in the city, or one will be driven mad by its constant onslaught. Her voice and the atmospheric sounds she added (sirens, people talking, footsteps, etc) focused my attention on the city itself, often causing me to jump or look over my shoulder. There were times when it felt like I was being followed, others where I was alone in my soundscape. I found it interesting that the sounds she highlighted were sounds I might otherwise have tuned out. She also used samples to add emphasis and atmosphere--a bit of brass band, the sound of gun shots in the distance--to her narrative. She also included a few musical pieces that directly related to the story, which I found distracting because they broke the spell I was under.

The packet of photos that accompanied the audio served as a means for Ms. Cardiff to examine various themes, relationships, the idea of the passing of time, the permanence of things as well as their continual change. The second photo was of a pond, taken in winter, which we were to compare with the actual pond before us. She described the day it was taken, how cold and how deserted the park was that day, a stark contrast to the summertime Central Park on the day of my visit. The image of the pond with ice on it, snow on the ground and the bare trees contrasted vividly with the lush green of the duckweed on the water and the canopy of leaves above me.

The photos were also used to examine the relationship between the black-haired woman and the photographer. Ms. Cardiff inferred that they were an unhappy couple, because one half of the pair was never in the images, but always behind the camera. The woman with the long black hair certainly didn't look happy in any of the images. One photo was snapped before the subject was ready, and the picture caught her brushing hair away from her face. Why did she look so unhappy? Why was the photographer so impatient? Couldn't a stranger in the park be trusted with their camera long enough to take a photo of the two of them together? Ms. Cardiff compared the woman with the long black hair and her photographer to Orpheus and Eurydice, adding a romantic/tragic element to the narrative. Perhaps this explained the source of some of the sorrow captured in the story? Like the Mona Lisa's smile, the story of the woman with the long black hair is intriguing and filled with unanswered questions. Ms. Cardiff takes the painting a few steps further by immersing us in the woman's world, and making us experience her real or imagined life.