The house of books has no windows

Just checked out “The House of Books has no Windows” by Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, the Canadian husband ‘n’ wife-style installation art team so beloved by Documenta-style curators, and after doing so I wished I hadn’t bothered. It’s just ending at Modern Art Oxford, although I still prefer to call the place by its old name Oxford Museum of Modern Art. According of MOMA, Janet ‘n’ George “create visual and spatial theatres that invoke altered states of perception”. I’m not entirely sure what an “altered state of perception” is, but if it is a synonym for an “altered state of consciousness” then whoever wrote the blurb can’t be faulted on the accuracy of their assessment. The boredom this show induced in me was a major alteration from the state of psychedelic curiosity and alertness that I’d been enjoying before I arrived at MOMA.
In the lower gallery is the installation “Dark Pool” dating back to 1995. The room is littered with debris and as you move around it, bits of pre-recorded music and speech are triggered but fail to amount to anything much. Upstairs is “Opera For A Small Room” (2005) in which a load of junk is piled up in a shop-like construction: records spin silently while a poorly edited sound collage blares, at one point it moves from awful opera to the Percy Sledge soul classic “When A Man Loves A Woman” and back to awful opera. Janet ‘n’ George clearly don’t know how to use sound, or do installation, and their work is unnecessarily fussy and complicated. Presumably we’re supposed to admire their effort and industry, but since the work itself falls flat on its face, I don’t see why I should be wowed by the technical difficulties this art world insider-outsider couple confront in realising their (party) pieces.
Next up is “The Muriel Lake Incident” (1999), a piss poor piece of video art that plays back on the screen of a miniature cinema. On the soundtrack Janet whispers at ‘silent George’ as if we are sitting through a ‘real’ movie screening. There is a psycho loose among the imaginary audience at this fictional film screening, and eventually we hear gunshots followed by male laughter. Incredibly, this actually succeeds in making the exceedingly crass Sid Vicious “My Way” audience murder sequence in “The Great Rock N Roll Swindle” (1980) look sophisticated by way of comparison.
After the previous works, the simplicity with which “Road Trip” (2005) is executed comes as a great relief. MOMA describe it as taking “the form of an automated slide show. It is accompanied by the voices of Cardiff and Miller discussing the slides and how they might make a work out of them… The slides were taken by Miller’s grandfather on a trip that he made from Calgary to New York City… While looking at the slides the artists discovered that they could trace his journey by recognising landmarks.” “Road Trip” is not a great work, the audio pretence that Janet ‘n’ George are looking at the slides for the first time as they speak is overly contrived and becomes grating, but at least this piece isn’t embarrassingly bad.
There is a family guide to the exhibition with things to get children to do and questions to ask them. I can’t be arsed to answer all the questions here… but I’ll take them up on “Road Trip”:
Q. What was the last big journey you went on?
A. It was on the Oxford Express bus service from Baker Street in London to Oxford.
Q. Where did you go?
A. I went to the Oxford Museum of Modern Art to see “The House of Books Has No Windows” by Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller.
Q. Did you take any photographs of that journey?
A. No.
Q. See if you can find old photographs, they could be family snaps or ever old postcards. Choose a selection and create your own story.
A. Are you taking this piss or what? I already did this and before Janet ‘n’ John, oops I mean George, in my 2004 film about my mother “The Eclipse & Re-Emergence of the Oedipus Complex”. For more information see:

The show takes its title from “The House of Books Has No Windows” (2008), which is a child’s playhouse constructed from old books. Thankfully this piece has no sound. But it isn’t particularly impressive, just a little construction for kids to play inside. In a failed attempt to hold viewer interest, the books are piled up with the spines facing outwards, so that the audience can glance at the titles. If I’d seen something I’d wanted to read I might have pulled it out, but I’d already read plenty of Thomas de Quincey and I was unable to spot another author who interested me. Besides, the construction would have been better if the spines had faced inward, since the books were hardbacks and would have resembled bricks if they’d placed this way around.
Finally there was “The Killing Machine” (2007): “an electric dental chair draped in pink fun fur… encircled by a megaphone speaker and robotic arms that move attacking an invisible victim. Revolving lights flash from a suspended glitter ball and an ominous soundtrack is heard. Activated by pushing the red button, we have the choice of merely observing or becoming an active participant in the sinister performance.” Virtually nothing in the description provided by MOMA is correct. Most of the time since this piece was first put on public display it hasn’t worked; it has suffered an ongoing series of mechanical breakdowns. The Janet ‘n’ George show was previously on at Edinburgh Fruitmarket and I understand “The Killing Machine” was almost permanently broken in Scotland. But the time it arrived in Oxford, some technical improvements resulted in the work mainly breaking down at the weekends, because higher visitor numbers on Saturdays and Sundays resulted in the red button being pressed more frequently then; but this would also put it out of operation in the early part of the week as it underwent repairs. Clearly Janet ‘n’ George should have refrained from exhibiting this work until they’d worked through the technical problems it raised. I went to MOMA on a Friday and seeing the work in action I was left underwhelmed. The soundtrack in particular is dreadful. It is stuffed full of cheap horror film theatrics that even a below-par straight to video director would reject.
The family guide to the Janet ‘n’ George show pretty much ends with the following provocation:
Q. If you had to use one word to describe what you have seen today, what would that one word be?”
A. Crap.
Okay that’s a cheap shot but it is exactly what this extravagantly expensive flop deserves. MOMA has hosted some incredible shows such as the “Gustav Metzger Retrospective” (25 October 1998-10 January 1999), and I bet that only cost a fraction of the money spent on the Janet ‘n’ George fiasco. This exhibition sucked like an infant that had missed a milk feed! If you avoided it then you’re very lucky!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Captain Bob on 2009-01-10 11:11:52 +0000

You should check out Janet ‘n’ George’s home porn, I love it!

Comment by genius on 2009-01-10 14:11:32 +0000

one thing I say for J&G: they’re boring

Comment by The Real Michael K. Stewart Home Page on 2009-01-10 15:53:50 +0000

Janet Cardiff is pure horny! But Jane Newport is even hotter!

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-10 16:05:53 +0000

I’ll take your word for that K. Was Jane that Japanese girl you were with the first time we met???

Comment by Sally on 2009-01-10 16:06:02 +0000


Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-10 16:14:58 +0000

Oh Charlie Brown, now he’s a clown!

Comment by The Real Michael K. Stewart Home Page on 2009-01-10 16:31:18 +0000

Does that make Janet&George a failed school of clowns??? And what exactly is the difference between a clown and a clone?? If you don’t know the answer I think you need to start another dozen blogs…..

Comment by Judie on 2009-01-10 16:43:02 +0000

a clown is as sad a phenomenon as a clone. Amen.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-10 16:44:05 +0000

K I think you’ve been hitting the Springbank again! It’s our secret, but we’re not really the same person!

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-10 16:47:24 +0000

Amen? Is that you Istvan Kantor, or one of your clones? And are you drunk?

Comment by Istvan Kantor on 2009-01-10 17:01:20 +0000

gotcha! Scared, Homie?

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-10 19:52:41 +0000

No, just laughing at your attempts to organise a 30 years of Neoism exhibition this year… because in your dreams it would have started with you in Montreal… but anyone who knows anything knows it started with Zack and Ackerman and others in Portland earlier… ha ha ha! And have you even got it on with Janet ‘n’ George???

Comment by Istvan Kantor on 2009-01-10 20:43:41 +0000

ha ha ha! (laughing at your narcissism) ha ha ha!

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-10 21:31:30 +0000

Oh you wouldn’t know about that coz your stuff isn’t good enough for anyone, even you, to get Stendhal syndrome from it. However you have got the McGonagall syndrome from your own stuff. This is a form of mental confusion that causes sufferers to be overcome with dizziness and sometimes hallucinations when exposed to piss-poor pieces of music or works of art, particularly if this garbage is neo-romantic in tenor. But I’m sure K gets Stendhal syndrome all the time from his own postings…. I certainly get them from K’s postings, but then I am K! And BTW you still haven’t answered my question about whether you have ever got it on with Janet ‘n’ George…..

Comment by Mister Anonymous on 2009-01-10 21:36:30 +0000

Oh I’m sure Janet&George suffer from the McGonagall syndrome too!

Comment by Club Milk on 2009-01-11 00:39:37 +0000

But does the house of windows have no books and would Janet and George be up for a threesome with the whole world looking on????

Comment by Oat Crumble on 2009-01-11 00:42:39 +0000

Enough of Janet and George’s old shit, we know all about that, we want to hear about something new! Not just Chocolate & Pecan or Chocolate & Raspberry, how about Chocolate & Caramel too????

Comment by Fig Roll on 2009-01-11 00:47:51 +0000

What about a return to the revolt against tradition? Futurism is 100 years old next month, and I’ve been Ireland’s favourite biscuit for over 100 years too and yet remain at the forefront of innovation and baking technology.
And don’t forget kids: if you joined all the Fig Rolls purchased in Ireland in one year back to back they would measure the distance to the moon and back… twice!!!

Comment by Messier 15 on 2009-01-11 01:06:51 +0000

I’m sure Mister Anonymous is suffering from the kind of spook mania that can be induced by ill-advised viewing of the Janet&George show.
BTW: Messier 15 or M15 (also designated NGC 7078) is a globular cluster in the constellation Pegasus. It was discovered by Jean-Dominique Maraldi in 1746 and included in Charles Messier’s catalogue of comet-like objects in 1764. At an estimated 13.2 billion years old, it is one of the oldest known globular clusters.
M15 is about 33,600 light-years from Earth. It has an absolute magnitude of -9.2 which translates to a total luminosity of 360,000 times that of the Sun. Messier 15 is one of the most densely packed globulars known in the Milky Way galaxy. Its core has undergone a contraction known as ‘core collapse’ and it has a central density cusp with an enormous number of stars surrounding what may be a central black hole.
Messier 15 contains 112 variable stars, a rather high number. It also contains at least 8 pulsars, including one double neutron star system, M15 C. Moreover, M15 houses Pease 1, one of only four planetary nebulae known to reside within a globular cluster, which was discovered in 1928.

Comment by Vivian Kilbride on 2009-01-11 01:10:22 +0000

It sounds like something from a graduate show 20 years ago. Not in a good way. Really cloying.

Comment by Observe on 2009-01-11 04:46:19 +0000

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller — I remember seeing a show of theirs at Whitechapel — they tried to recreate a church interior in miniature, with a sound installation of fairly ordinary religious chant, not even a particularly good example of the style. A local lad tried to rip the speakers down — which was the best part of the show.
Oxford MOMA — I have many good memories of that place, in particular the Monica Bonvicini exhibition, which was nuts — very confrontational, and hilarious. I also really enjoyed a Marina Abramovic retrospective, which was fantastic. I find a lot of her ideas actually to be poorly thought through cod mysticism mixed with unbelievable levels of vanity , but I did enjoy some of her earlier ideas a lot. It seems to me that COUM appropriated some of her ideas too.

Comment by Observe on 2009-01-11 07:03:48 +0000

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-11 12:03:47 +0000

Yeah, I remember Janet Cardiff also did those taped walks that you got on headphones from the Whitechapel, I think you can still do that but I haven’t to date… don’t think I will now either…
Didn’t see the Abramovic at Oxford but the catalogue looked good…. Her influence is amazing… there were some very funny restagings of her work at the A Foundation in Liverpool when I was there recently with my ventriloquist puppet Mister Dog.

Comment by Michael Roth on 2009-01-15 05:59:53 +0000

Not being familiar with Janet and George, I checked out a book from the library to get an idea of her work. (the book – Janet Cardiff: A Survey of Works, with George Bures Miller) the works in the book are from 1991 to 2001 (with a chronology describing some earlier pieces). The installations seem to be rather boring and banal. Of course, hard to judge from a book but that was the impression it left. The text for the “audio” portions of the shows was also included. I was surprised how unremarkable, even irritating, the writing was. It would be difficult to sit through some of that stuff – and I’ve tested my constitution sitting through some horrid poetry readings.
I think she has some some decent ideas that just are not executed very well. She stops far before the pieces get interesting and add to that the atrocious writing, well…. I’m a bit surprised she gets as many shows as she does.
Then again, I’m just an ignorant prol.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-01-15 14:31:58 +0000

Yeah, strange isn’t it what the art world goes for… there’s no accounting for bourgeois tastes (other than the fact that they are on the whole consistently bad)…. As far as Canadian art goes, gimmie General Idea any day!

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