The centrepiece of the Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary’s December exhibition, The Muriel Lake Incident — by Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller — is a wooden box in a darkened room. Don the attached headphones, peer into the box, and you’ll find yourself in a miniature movie theatre, watching an evocative, dream-like film with flavours of mystery and film noir.
As you watch, though, you’ll hear dialogues around you... both from the screen and also from people seated nearby in the theatre. MOCA’s artistic director Jeffrey Spalding is reluctant to tell visitors more than that, explaining that, “It’s an immersive experience that people need to come and experience first-hand.”
He also adds that because the film and audio are on a five-minute loop, “In a sense, many people’s experiences of this work will be unique and personal.”
While The Muriel Lake Incident itself is imaginative and immersive — “just a beautiful dream-like experience” — Spalding says that he chose to program Cardiff and Miller to highlight their international success and share their work with Calgarians.
“All the most distinguished museums are doing their work, and meanwhile I don’t think they are household names in Calgary,” he says. “These are artists that have made an enormous impact on contemporary art history and they live in our midst, and we should celebrate them and let our citizens see why the whole world seems to be paying attention to them.”
He explains that The Muriel Lake Incident, as a media-based installation work, also serves to connect Calgary with what’s going on in the global contemporary art scene.
“These are the kinds of work that people are experiencing as major art all around the world, and we don’t have an awful lot of opportunities in Calgary to see, say, media installation art,” he says. “The major language that is spoken in contemporary art today... is primarily installation, and we apparently don’t speak that language, or don’t speak it as often. It is very difficult to speak to the rest of the world when you speak a different language.”
There’s more to see at MOCA this month than The Muriel Lake Incident, though. Celebrating the season of giving, MOCA is showcasing a selection of recent donations to the museum as part of its Holiday Wishes exhibition, as well as a Christmas display organized with several cultural centres to celebrate the fact that December 6 is Saint Nicholas day.