Janet Cardiff + George Bures Miller – Opera for a Small Room

Festivals: M:ST 8 Festival.

Southern Alberta Art Gallery
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 1, 2016 from 8:00 – 10:00 PM
Exhibition runs from Saturday, October 1 to Sunday, November 20

R. Dennehy lived most of his life in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, Canada. Not a lot is known about him, but he is listed in the telephone book as Royal Dennehy. One thing we do know is that he once collected opera records. He was infatuated with great tenors. We are aware of these facts because we bought all his records (which were signed at the top) at the second-hand store in Salmon Arm. There were approximately one hundred records.

We are interested in the extreme cultural juxtaposition between opera and the small western town in which R. Dennehy lived. What did he think about while listening to these records, recorded in cities half-way around the world? Was he a trained singer? Did he want to have a career in opera? Did he lose a lover and find solace in the music? Did he dream of traveling to faraway opera houses one day? We imagined him singing along to the records, creating his own opera, displaced in time and space.

So we made a small room for the opera of his life. There are twenty-four antique loud speakers out of which come songs, sounds, arias, and occasional pop tunes. There are almost two thousand records stacked around the room and eight record players, which turn on and off robotically syncing with the soundtrack. The sound of someone moving and sorting albums is heard. A shadow occasionally moves across the back wall when the music changes as if there is an invisible DJ not content to listen to one full song. The man’s voice is projected out of a megaphone: “In the middle of the stage a man sits alone in a room filled with speakers, amplifiers, and records.”  His use of stage directions reinforces the illusion that he is a man alone, trying to create a dramatic world for himself.

The audience cannot enter the room. To see and hear his world, they have to look through windows, holes in the walls, and cracks in the doorways. Coloured lights sequence around the room, coming on and off, fading up and down, pulsing to emphasize the mood and beat of the music. Through the use of lighting, the piece shifts in feeling from a nostalgic setting of an old attic room to that of a night club or theatre stage.

Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller


Internationally acclaimed artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller return to Lethbridge to present Opera for a Small Room. Like many of the duo’s major works, this meticulously orchestrated audio-visual installation offers an uncanny world rife with narrative and opportunities to explore. Coinciding with SAAG’s 40th Anniversary, the exhibition celebrates Cardiff and Miller, artists who have left their mark throughout many decades of the gallery’s institutional history and who continue to influence and inspire artists and audiences around the world. Cardiff and Miller live and work in the interior of British Columbia.

This exhibition is presented by the Southern Alberta Art Gallery. Funding assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and the City of Lethbridge. Reception sponsored by North & Company LLP.