No Sound of Water forms part of Troika’s ongoing project Untertage. Meaning ‘below the earth’, or literally, ‘under the day’, Untertage takes shape as an elaborate ecosystemic fiction: its protagonist, salt, is devised as the hero of an aeonian drama of world domination. The crystal takes centre stage as an agent of cultural evolution, the critical component for the tools without which human civilisation could not have developed as we know it.
Steeped in dysphoric anxiety about a not-too-distant future in which our planet has become unliveable, this paranoid alternate reading casts its protagonist into the role of a genocidal and ecocidal mastermind, the creator of a new geological epoch of anorganic intelligence and synthetic biology once all organic life has ceased to exist. After having coerced humanity into mining and refining it, developing flint into arrows and quartz into microprocessors, salt brings about a new age of silicate-based ‘life’.
Visitors find themselves in a charged space between two works; one is materially present to the point of being uncontainable, the other is confined to the realm of digital unreality. Both process or are processed by silicates — be it in the form of table salt or silicon chips.
No Sound of Water (2021) delivers large quantities of table salt from the upper level of its framework into its trough like a bottomless hourglass. The structure is adapted from an industrial processing machine, a reference to the extractive technologies that have contributed to the planet’s anthropocentric transformation. The salt crystals are always in motion and over time become increasingly uncontrollable, spilling into the room, collecting in cracks in the floor, lungs, rolled up trouser legs, keyboards, and the lunches of the foundation’s staff.
Visually, the sculpture refers to a familiar iconography of waterfalls: due to long exposure times in the early days of photography, movement of water was recorded as a blurry and dreamily suspended entity. These images were often produced as albumen silver prints, coated in an emulsion of egg white and salt. Creating an image of the American West as an endless expanse of awe-inspiring and ‘untamed’ beauty, they formed part of a programme of economic settler expansion organised by the US-American Department of War.
Terminal Beach (2020) shows a forlorn and depleted landscape with a single tree – the last tree on earth. A robotic arm covered in long black fur is rhythmically applying an axe to the trunk of the tree, which shudders with each impact. The scene takes place at the edge of time, at the precipice after which there will be no conscious or at least carbon-based entity marking a here and now. The digitally animated robot, whose appearance is modelled on industrial Kuka machines used on assembly lines, was motion capture trained by the artists. The film’s metaphor is blunt: we are destroying the world that sustains us and any acceleration of technological, capitalist, and industrial advancement is also an acceleration towards extinction.
Visual perspectives shift throughout the animation, from human eye-level, to drone view, to the robot’s own perspective, and lastly the POV of the tree, looking down towards Earth and just faintly sensing an irritant presence below. The acoustic backdrop doubles the uncanny nature of the robotic primate arm by bearing a resemblance to bird sounds; in fact, what we hear are signals generated by lightning activity and geomagnetic storms driven by the Sun, recordings of space weather captured as radio waves by the British Antarctic Survey.
Troika are working through and making accessible ways of seeing and sensing that may represent actual alterity: if our world is ending, how do we cross over and become alien? How do we invite the shock and the pleasure of alterity in view of our own annihilation?
’No Sound of Water’
12 November 2021 - 15 May 2022
Anillo Perif. 3720, Jardines del Pedregal,
01900 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico