Right now, she is having sex with your best friend is the first in a series of three installations set inside a small dark room. Outside the room a sign is posted that reads: “Right now, she is having sex with your best friend.” The room is heated to an uncomfortable 90 degrees and filled with a loud, piercing 1200-hertz tone, both of which make the viewer uneasy. Visitors enter the room in small groups of five people maximum. When they are inside, they experience a strong wave of heat. The room is pitch black, so they extend their arms, trying to figure out its dimensions. The sound hits their ears. It seems to ricochet from one corner to another. It is not harmful but it comes close to causing pain. After some time, visitors start to feel a sort of numbness, and look for the door to exit. When they leave the room, the sound lingers in their heads.
This installation represents a departure from my earlier work in film. It uses sound and physical conditions to make the viewer experience a particular emotion. Some have compared this piece to Bill Viola’s He Weeps for You, in terms of the topic and the use of raw materials such as water or sound to express strong, dark emotions.
This work represents a turning point in my practice in terms of intention as well as medium. It attempts to get deep into the perceptual process. After more than ten years of working with the seductive qualities of the image in advertising, film and video art, I wanted to create the same sensation that an image produces without using any visual elements.
As I mentioned above, the titles in my work are very important. They visualize the content of the image I’m recreating, working as an entry point to the piece. Without them the work would be completely misunderstood. The direct call to the viewer, in identifying “your best friend,” facilitates the immersive process that will happen inside the room.
Another key element of this work is the darkness of the room, which creates a phenomenological effect. Our visual system is so predominant that in order to be aware of our bodies we need to eliminate sight. Once we cannot see properly we have to locate ourselves using the rest of our senses. Our skin becomes more important, our taste becomes more important, our smell becomes more important, and of course our hearing becomes crucial.
The sound generates an “echo” in our brain, traveling from one side of our head to the other, and tuning us into our bodies. Likewise, the heat warps everything, making the body feel agitated, increasing the heartbeat and warming the chest. In fact, this is the sensation that I try to evoke. One of the most common body sensations that everybody recognizes is feeling heat when they are arguing or irritated, for example.
Many people can stay inside the room for only a minute. Others stay for 20 minutes. Those who experienced sound installations before spent more time in the room. We have varying tolerance for extreme stimulus. Regardless of their tolerance for the experience, most visitors emerge from the space and tell me they could relate the sensation they felt inside to the experience I narrate in the title.
Other visitors told me that they did not relate to that experience, however they were able to project themselves into that situation. The difference is the lack of reference in terms of body sensation for the moment the title is talking about. Some people think they experienced something related and others project what they are feeling as what they would feel in a situation like that. These were the ones who spent more time inside the room. The heat and numbness they felt can only be achieved with time. For most of the people, the echo in the brain started during the second minute. The overall sensation when they left the room was one of confusion and agitation.
Images: Plan of the Installation, Physical Sensation.