3/5/10 2:11 PM
I have never before heard the sound of a person drowning, or coming close to drowning. It is unbearable, a watery mess of gasps, mucus, drips and snorting that provoke horror in the listener. In Cassandra Troyan’s video Untitled (Drowning), 2009, these noises play audio to a video that is, on its own, surprisingly watchable, picturesque even. All soft focus and grayscale, the artist’s head is shown as it is being dunked repeatedly into a water-filled bathtub. Silent, as it is for the first third of its run, the video is more abstract than real; with the introduction of sound, everything changes, and the hideousness of this physical situation comes flooding in. The action is entirely voluntary, of course, as can be gathered by the way the performer — Troyan herself — signals to a second person when she is ready to be dunked again, and again, and again. Obviously this is not torture — torture is non-consensual — but the act of being drowned recalls nothing today so much as waterboarding, and the artist’s voluntary experience of what is clearly an awful physical situation brings it experientially closer to home both for her and for the viewer. The twist is how pretty and palatable it all is with the sound turned off, a metaphor if ever there was one for the way that too many of us ingest the horrors of the day.