Professor Melissa Ragona
Contemporary Art History, 60206
15 April, 2009
Opera for a Small Room
“Opera for a Small Room” is a time-based mixed-media installation by Canadian artists, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. The mixed media includes sound, record players, records and synchronized lighting. It is exhibited in “a small room”, 2.6 x 3 x 4.5m, and plays in a 20-minute loop. This piece constructs a hyper realistic narrative centered on the character R. Dennehy. Dennehy is believed to have lived almost his entire life, in British Columbia, Canada. He was a collector of opera records. Cardiff and Miller purchased all of these records, from a second-hand store in Salmon Arm. Cardiff and Miller have used their creative license to interpolate the details of Dennehy’s life and create this theatrical installation. In their book, “The Secret Hotel”, they describe their intentionality, “We are interested in the extreme cultural juxtaposition between opera and the small western town in which R. Dennehy lived” (Cardiff, Miller 77). They created a fictional narrative to justify his existence. This included his love for music as well as the tragic loss of a wife or lover, and his efforts to find consolation in opera music. My goal is to discuss the various time-based aspects of this mixed-media installation, critique the creative decisions made by the artists and evaluate the strength of the performance. The primary ordering structure used to establish the storyline and immediately grab the audience’s attention is Dennehy’s compelling narrative. In the opening excerpt, you hear a man’s voice from the megaphone, “In the middle of the stage, a man sits alone in a room filled with speakers, amplifiers and records” (Opera for a Small Room). Thus, the soundtrack introduces Dennehy’s character and places him in the small room, and you start to piece together Dennehy’s world. “Opera for a Small Room” explores duration qualities through...