THE PARADISE INSTITUTE
The Paradise Institute, by artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller is a captivating 13-minute visual, sonic, and sensory experience. The artists constructed an immersive environment that challenges both our visual and auditory perceptions of reality. The artwork is presented as an unassuming plywood structure that is set up as a miniature theatre - complete with two rows of 16 velvet-covered seats and Oscar-red carpet. Once inside the structure, the audience peers over a miniature balcony to observe a tiny replica of an old fashioned theatre that creates the illusion of a real theatre on a grand scale. The participants then don headphones and observe a dvd monitor that serves as the screen of the detailed miniature diorama. Once the visual and auditory experience begins, it starts plays with the realities of cinema and sound, as well as the reality of reality itself. When the film first starts, you hear other patrons (in the headphones) in the theatre rustling about and a girl (your date, it seems) that sounds like she's right next to you - she shows up late and intimately whispers in your ear about popcorn. This hyper-perspective is created through a series of illusions that make the exhibit not just interactive with the audience - but dependent on them.
"What Ms. Cardiff and Mr. Miller are doing is something more than just purveying fancy special effects. They are using technology not only to create a deeply satisfying new kind of entertainment, but also to explore something of substantial philosophical and psychological interest: the unstable relationship between what seems real and what is." Johnson, Ken, New York Times, ART IN REVIEW; Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller -- 'The Paradise Institute' 2002.
This play on reality uses the medium of film in an unusual and voyeuristic fashion. Early in the film a cell phone rings in the the theatre and a character on screen seems to hear it. Later in the film the girl next to you whispers a question in your ear about turning off the stove back at the house. Then the next image on the screen is that of a house engulfed in flames. This interwoven connection with the audience (both fictional and non) not only breaks the fourth dimension of cinema, but adds a fifth dimension with the participants that feels overwhelmingly intimate.
"This highly convincing audio component aims to trigger emotional and physical reactions, which in turn affect visual perception. On screen, a dark and mysterious narrative develops and begins to blend with events taking place in the theatre, building into a dramatic crescendo." MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland) - Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: The Paradise Institute June 9, 2013.
This simulated environment raises many interesting questions regarding the boundaries of reality and entertainment - and proves the power of separation - specifically in regards to reality, but also the effect and outcome of separating sound and cinema. How do we separate memories and real-life experiences from those that we absorb from images? How substantial/fragile is the boundary between cinema and reality? Is what we see always directly correlated to reality - or do we see what we want to hear? Although the exhibit first appeared back in 2002, it seems that this work is more relevant now (2016) than ever. In a society constantly surrounded and immersed in screens and entertainment - what does it mean to challenge the barriers between reality and distractions? Highlighting the positive and negative effects that escapism can have on our lives is an important function of this work. Maybe when we use entertainment as a means of escaping reality what we are really doing is entering another reality instead - one that breaks all senses and dimensions of consciousness.
A similar artwork to The Paradise Institute that comes to mind is a cinematic piece from artist Alex Prager titled La Grande Sortie. In the film an older couple goes to theatre to watch the ballet. The film then perceives to focus its perspective on the ballet performance itself, and we get personally involved with the main character (a ballet dancer) for several minutes. But as the performer gets more immersed in her dance and her character, she begins to mix reality with fiction. A bored audience member that the ballet dancer notices is suddenly her dance partner on stage, followed by another audience member who gave the dancer a disconcerting look. It almost seems that the dancer is struggling to satisfy all of the audience's expectations, and by striving for perfection, loses her sense of reality. Finally the dancer escapes her character's own reality completely by leaving her "character" on stage, and her "real-self" proceeds to leave the theatre. The work explores concepts of judgment, reality, escapism, perfection, and the power of theatre. These themes as well as the blend of fiction and reality beautifully correlate with the 4th and 5th dimensions of The Paradise Institute.
Another artwork that comes to mind is a project by artists Julien Clauss and Lynn Pook titled STiMULiNe. This work uses wearable suits that the participants don, and translates their bodies' natural sounds into music. The futuristic overalls create synthetic music that is naturally diffused directly from one's body. The listeners are then connected to each other via cable into a sound matrix. The feedback then sends vibrations to other participants suits and creates an auditory and physical experience that serves as a connection of the real.
"In the contemporary context of technically ultraconnected society, STiMULiNE creates «connected isolations» by materializing simultanius intimate and group experiences. By combining touch and hearing, the original project tries out a new perceptive dimension of the concert and use of the whole body as a perception interface." Pook, Lynn. STiMULiNE « Audio-tactile » concert, 2003.
These "connected isolations" break the boundaries of escapism and entertainment similar to that of The Paradise Institute. By highlighting the sound of one's self, we are forced to focus on our own reality instead of escaping through the sound of music. This unique take on sound, touch, and interconnectivity creates a surreal experience - a form of escapism that is focused on reality.
The Paradise Institute was featured at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, The National Gallery of Canada, and the Corcoran Gallery in New York.