The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters TBA21 20 Years of Commissioning Art

This podcast is a live recording from the talk between artist Janet Cardiff and essayist and professor Estrella de Diego Otero, which took place at the Real Academia de Bellas de San Fernando in Madrid on February 16, 2022. This event marked the beginning of the twenty-year anniversary celebrations of TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. Introduced by Deputy Director and Treasurer of the Academia, Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán y de la Serna, and the Chairwoman of TBA21, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, this dynamic conversation explores the work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, an artist duo whose collaboration has been central to the development of the TBA21 Collection. 

Originally commissioned by TBA21 for the 16th Sydney Biennale (2008), Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s sound installation The Murder of Crows is presented by TBA21 from February 17 to July 31, 2022, in collaboration with Matadero Madrid, in the cold chamber of the city’s former slaughterhouse. The work explores the physical and sculptural qualities of sound, via 98 loudspeakers that are distributed throughout the space, surrounding the viewer. With the human voice as a central element, as well as soundscapes and compositions by musicians such as Freida Abtan, Tilman Ritter, and Alexandr Alexandrov, The Murder of Crows deals with questions of desire, love, loss, and memory, using an ambiguous and fractured narrative. 

An important reference to this work is Francisco Goya’s etching The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters (Caprinchos, 1799), which original plate is precisely preserved at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes San Fernando. Both works conjure a series of monsters, threats, and shadows born from the realm of dreams, but these are the result of human reason as well as the source of the artists’ creative process. In the Caprichos series, Goya, imbued with the spirit of the Enlightenment, criticized the tyranny, ignorance, and superstition of a political, religious, and social structure that advocated immobility as its sole strategy. By contrast, Cardiff and Miller’s 2008 work responds to a new globalized world order, which also aspires to subjugation, but this one imposed through technology and consumption. If reason was Goya’s response to escape ignorance and fanaticism, then in the present moment, which has maintained these same vices, the response resides in a utilitarian and polarizing reason, which is perhaps precisely the result of these vices. And as in Goya’s time, the obscuring of reality, or the construction of false truths, continues to accompany us today. 

In this timely conversation, Cardiff and de Diego discuss a wide range of topics ranging from questions of intimacy, dreams, trauma, memory, technology, cinematic experience, to working methods, and many others, in order to unravel Cardiff and Miller’s practice, while reflecting on the fascination that Goya’s oeuvre continues to arouse in the contemporary artistic sphere, as well as highlighting the points of convergence of past and present artistic expressions.

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Social Justice
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25/03 2022
A conversation between Janet Cardiff and Estrella de Diego