Senses And Sensibility

Installation plays with movement, space and silence
by Bart Gazzola Planet S Magazine, Saskatoon, SK

Troy Gronsdahl’s latest exhibition, Back and Gone, at Paved art and new media, is uncomfortably intimate — and to anyone who’s familiar with his past studio work (or his music, which he makes under the soso moniker) this shouldn’t be a surprise.

This is very much a “site specific” installation — one dependent upon the characteristics of the physical site to sharpen the content of the work. A side door, which leads to what is usually just a tight, constricting hallway space between AKA and paved, is taken over and transformed into a space that’s both womb-like and claustrophobic. Again, anyone familiar with Gronsdahl’s works will recognize this play on contradictions. (The gentleness of his gaze in his video work in Mind the Gap, for example, is like this, conflicting with the harshness of exposing that which is often kept hidden, or that we want to be hidden.)

The darkened space, through one door and then another, is unlit save for a wall (or “screen”) at the end of the hallway. It’s impenetrably dark, with walls that slant inwards at a gentle angle, making it so you can get within a foot or so of the aforementioned screen — enough to touch, but not enough to get closer unless you slide in sideways. This enforced distance is one of many ways in which Back and Gone plays upon intimacy and absurdity: the seemingly backlit, greyish wall has white “sparks” that move from above, but the space is quiet, contemplative and almost Zen-like in its play on sensory deprivation.

This quiet reverie is broken, however, when a vague, softly rendered figure moves towards you on the backlit wall. He (it?) never approaches very closely and seems to be dismissive, and the brief visit is ended by his turning away in a manner that has an air of insulting contempt. This is an interesting interaction with the viewer, as it repeats continuously: I’m reminded of Euan MacDonald’s video installations, where you wait 20 minutes for one (understated) event, or his “video landscapes” — projected scenes that take a moment to realize aren’t stills.

All of these are “time based” works — ones that play upon the experience of the viewer, that inject time directly into the physical spaces occupied by the art.

In Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version, the son of the title character speaks of how his father believed in two things: that life was absurd, and that no one could ever truly know another person. This definitely influenced my understanding of Back and Gone, but Gronsdahl’s words are also apt: “[This] video installation… considers the relationship between moving image and sound and continues my exploration into themes of vulnerability. The element of sound, specifically the lack thereof, has figured prominently in my video work. The absence of audio distinguishes my video from traditional cinema or documentary genres and is intended to enhance the intimate qualities of the subject matter.

“I have been interested in the poetic potential of the [hallway] and it has figured into my previous installations. The location for this installation introduces notions of an ‘in between space’ neither here nor there. The space determined to a great extent the size and scale of the design and it narrows to a possibly uncomfortable or unmanageable width. The dark space is intended to exacerbate a sense of possible unease. I’ve treated the interior to minimize echo within the space and create an unexpected auditory experience. By significantly reducing the acoustic stimulus, I hope to envelop the viewer in a conspicuous silence… [the felt walls are designed to] suppress echo, reduce ambient light and provide a familiar or pleasurable tactile surface that may suggest warmth and comfort.

“Through an increased awareness of the space, I hope to create a sense of solitude or isolation. This environment informs the reading of the video component. Shooting in low light and providing minimal information, the viewer is challenged to interpret the video image — an encounter with a figure, appearing into the light before receding again into darkness.”

A graduate of the U of S BFA program, Gronsdahl has a studio practice that is unique, and I suspect part of that is due to his experience as a musician. Musicians know a bad cover band when they hear one, and don’t claim that learning the tools of the trade would “stomp on their creativity.” In the interests of full disclosure, it should also be noted that he once dedicated a song called “Hungover Three Days Straight (don’t matter)” to me at a gig, which said more — and less — than I was comfortable with.