Back and Gone, Blackflash Magazine

Troy Gronsdahl’s installation “back and gone” is, as David LaRiviere describes in his essay on the work, a pursuit of the sense of vulnerability. It is true that the work continues Gronsdahl’s exploration and exposure of human frailty and vulnerability, with himself and his family and friends as the common subject of the exploration. Both as a visual artist and rap artist Soso, Gronsdahl pushes the audiences’ limits of comfort in their exposure to human imperfections, vulnerability and loss. In the work “back and gone” Gronsdahl takes this exploration to a new level by putting the viewer into a controlled environment that has the potential to elicit comfort or distress.

The inspiration of this installation began when the artist was able to visit an anechoic chamber. This is a space where as much exterior sound is removed as possible, interior sounds are buffered from reflection and is commonly used by scientists for aural experimentations. Experimental musician John Cage described the experience of being in such a sound vacuum as follows:

“I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation.”[1]

Gronsdahl’s experience was similar and he sought to find a way to replicate it as an aesthetic space. The space chosen was a previously non-public wedge formed by the adjacent walls of PAVED Art’s and AKA Gallery’s gallery walls. This space was originally designed to facilitate the ease of installing or embedding objects or equipment into these walls. For the artist the space offered an opportunity to create a semi-permanent installation within a gallery context without using an existing white cube space.

To recreate the anechoic chamber, Gronsdahl consulted insulation experts and sound technicians to determine the materials and process for creating a ‘sound vacuum.’ Layers of drywall, insulation, felt and foam were installed both to buffer external sounds as well as created a specific corporeal and aesthetic experience within the space. Despite all of the artist’s efforts and hard work, the sounds of the outside world could not be eliminated. The structure of the building itself, which was prone to distribute sounds from the second floor, and the noise-laden installations of the adjacent galleries hindered the artist’s efforts.

Although the space was by no means a ‘sound vacuum’ it did damper outside noises and provoke a very specific corporeal experience. The viewer had access to the space by entering a double-door system through which was a space covered in foam and felt. Even the floor was applied with a soft sound-buffering material. The relative silence of the space provokes an awareness of self: the relationship between the body and the space, the rhythm of breathing, eyes adjusting to the darkness.

The end wall of the long wedge-shaped space was floor to ceiling drywall, onto which the artist projected a video. Because the space is a wedge, the closer the viewer moves toward the image, the tighter the space becomes.  Stepping too far into the space would result in being squeezed by the space. The human scale of the space might seem like a comfort or a coffin.

The video was a grainy back and white image of darkness with a single spot of light from above. Slowly, a man’s figure comes into view as he steps under the light. The figure stands under the light and the viewer is no longer alone in the space. Confronted with an unknown, faceless figure in an enclosed space, the room is now charged with tension. Soon, the figure turns and walks away, leaving the viewer alone in the space once again. The video loops and once again the viewer is alone.

Everything about the space creates a confrontation with self, and therefore a sense of vulnerability. The darkness, silence and enclosed space may be felt to be similar to a coffin. Yet, it could also be a comforting, private space and therefore difficult to leave. The image of the man emerging into the light and then receding again creates a feeling of loss, and even leaving the space provokes a feeling of abandonment, re-entering the world without resolving the intention of the man in the video. Gronsdahl has taken a previously empty space and charged it with emotionality and in so doing has exposed the potential of the space as a sight of installation and investigation.

[1] “A few notes about silence and John Cage”. November 24, 2004.


Donna Wawzonek
Blackflash Magazine, Fall 2010, Issue 28.1