Villa Medici Walk


Villa Medici Walk


Audio walk

16 minutes, 22 seconds

Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Laurence Bossé for the group exhibition La Ville, le Jardin, la Mémoire. Académie de France.

Janet Cardiff

This walk has the best ending spot we’ve ever used, the souterrain, the underground cellar where a previous director had stored broken statues, with their arms and heads lying scattered, forgotten. There was also an extensive labyrinth of small tunnels that terrified me and had been used for mining. If you followed them, you could be lost forever.

The walk started in a small garden with a grove of orange trees right outside our window in the castle. As we watched from above, the archaeologists unearthed a tiled and frescoed room from a lost villa that they had known was somewhere under the city but they had only just located. I think the experience of the layering of time in Rome led me to write a script that used a series of experiments with time to structure the piece. It was also the first piece in which I used the mini voice recorder as a device to form a character.

start in small orange garden, crows cawing

George taped and played from small tape recorder in room Things have started to disappear. This morning my shoes were missing..

Janet I found his voice recorder in my suitcase. This machine has become him now, his words floating like a ghost in front of me. I want you to walk with me. I need to show you something. Try to walk with the sound of my footsteps so that we can stay together. Go through the doorway in the wall to the right … past the iron gate, then go to the left.

sound of car

Janet It’s a great view of the Villa, the gardens … the statues of the defeated Barbarians. The fountains.
sound of water starts. sound changes to fire crackling, bombs, helicopter

George static noise The building is crumbling, fire coming out of the windows. The tall pines look like giant torches in the night.

Janet Experiment no 1. Cut 100 snowflakes out of paper. Go to the top of the tower and throw them off, one at a time.

Janet Let’s walk again. Go towards the stone steps.

Janet whispered Experiment no 3. Sit in a church and watch the light move across the wall. sound of Latin mass, walking in church

Janet Go to the left.

George When did it happen, or perhaps I just dreamt it. Some mornings when I wake up you’re beside me and some mornings you’re gone.

Janet whispered Experiment no 4. Inscribe your lover’s name into a wall. See which will last longer, your love or the words.

Janet Go to the right. The bodies were buried just on the other side of this wall. A man is spraying the tennis courts with water. There’s grass sticking out of the bricks. Too bad it’s so loud here because of the traffic.

George I woke up this morning and everything was gone. The house had disappeared, crumbled, just a pile of stones around me.

Janet Walk through the gate, then to the right. Turn to the right along the road.

Janet I remember a long laneway where I used to walk. Now it’s buried under a field of corn.

Janet whispered Experiment no 5. Hold your breath until you lose consciousness. sound of taking breath and walking for about 15 seconds then my breath exhaling

Janet There’s someone coming towards us. When I’m walking down a road like this I don’t like to meet anyone. It’s somehow too intimate. I’ll pretend I’m looking at something in the bush … ‘Bonjour’

George whispering voice It’s starting, it’s happening to you too.

Janet He’s wrong, things started to dissolve a long time ago. scooter goes by

I wanted to approach Cardiff after hearing about her Louisiana Museum Walk in 1996 from my husband Cesare – he had experienced her walk there and had told me she had a beautiful voice. I was both intrigued and jealous. Then I saw her Playhouse installation in Berlin, and loved it. I subsequently met George and Janet in Münster in 1997, when they were distributing headphones to people for their walk there. I remember feeling her walk draw me into an intimate, close relationship, and then abruptly abandon me at the end of it in the little room. It was a particularly difficult time for me, having lost a child in an accident only two years earlier, and I remember being acutely sensitive to the feeling of loss. I think we connected immediately, because she understood the intensity of the experience I had with her work.

The Renaissance gardens of the Villa seemed like a perfect site for Janet to create a walk. They are in a modern city, yet they are protected from it by tall walls in a sort of hortus conclusus that also functions as a time capsule, so that they can step into the past, right in the middle of an urban environment. There are private areas where the Villa residents live and public tracts that are open for promenades. I think this juxtaposition of two different worlds intrigued her. She was also interested in the Bosco, the ‘wilder’ part of the traditional garden, and the myth of the wilderness. George and Janet lived in the Villa for a period of several months.

People often ask how Cardiff ’s walks transform the places they occur. Of course there are changes, but not more or less than any other element such as weather, time of day, or season transforms the place. Cardiff ’s walks heighten our awareness of the way that we always alter our environments with our feelings, as we traverse them. Our memories constantly enter into our perception of what is the ‘here and now.’ I remember sounds of helicopters that Janet had put into the recording. I asked her about them, and she said Rome always had helicopters hovering above. I had never noticed that, but it is true. Now, when I walk in Rome, I always notice the heli-copters above, and imagine the pilots and the people above, watching over the city. It makes me feel more vulnerable, rather than secure.

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

Related Publications

Janet Cardiff
The Walk Book

Thyssen_Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna in collaboration with Public Art Fund, New York