This video explores the body placed in water. The living, breathing body is submerged underwater, and the water creates reflections and refractions on the surface of the body, while the surface of the water itself holds its own reflections. To create a sense of disorder, the body remains underwater, slowly losing air, for as long as possible before it runs out of air. As it surfaces, the tension experienced while viewing its underwater struggle is broken- both literal and figurative. However, in order to immediately continue the (figurative) tension, the body immediately retreats beneath the surface of the water. This extends the artist’s feelings towards the viewer, also aware of the feeling of being breathless underwater. The tension is intentionally created for the purpose of the piece, but can be appreciated by anyone viewing it.
The body can only be submerged for a short time before its immediate and only desire is to come up for air; here, that luxury is allowed for only a small amount of time. Although the body comes up quickly, almost violently to gasp for air, its first submersion and final exit from the water are calm. It is obvious that the artist is steeling himself for the first entry, mentally and physically preparing for the performance ahead. This state of calm is repeated again at the end, breaking the tension that the viewer has come to expect while waiting for the previously fast exits from the water. The body, on this final exit, forces itself to be calm as it comes up for air, aware that it will no longer be in such a deprived state. Just as the face breaks the surface of the water, the video cuts to black, and only the audio from the remainder of the performance is heard. This approach is used at the beginning of the video as well, beginning with the sounds of running water and breaths being taken, with an image only appearing as the face retreats beneath the water. This is done intentionally in order to put emphasis on the noises of the video, which are equally as important as its imagery.
This piece re-assesses themes dealt with in both the self-portrait and body as energy works. In relation to the former, the body is once again considered while submerged underwater. This time, it is the physical body that is underwater, as opposed to the indistinct photograph explored in the self-portrait. Due to the body’s mass, particularly in such a small space, the currents that pushed the photograph do not affect the body. Instead, the body is at one moment clearly seen, and the next not as visible, as water swirls above the face, and bubbles issue from the artist. Here, the image of the artist is at the mercy of the water it is submerged in, much as the photograph was at the mercy of the changing currents of its tank.
As it relates to the latter, body as energy piece, this video is also a statement on the physical limitations of the body. In the body as energy series, the impossibility of reaching the camera was apparent (with one exception): in suffocation, it is immediately obvious that the body will be unable to remain submerged indefinitely, and the entire piece is a direct response to this impossibility. Much as the viewer saw the distant, indistinct body in motion in As Far As I Could Get, suffocation presents the body as more distinct, within the motion of water, and decidedly much closer to the viewer.
As previously discussed, sound is important to this piece. The video’s original sound is left untouched, with all the noises of running, gurgling water, breaths taken by the artist, and noises from bubbles that the artist produces. Minute changes in the audio help to keep the viewer’s attention in the (intentionally, excruciatingly) long video, and shift attention between audio and video sensations. The only editing that is done to the sound is the addition of seven audio clips (one clip for each submersion) of slow, drawn out footsteps. These are added in order to further impose the artist’s experience onto the viewer, as they were ‘heard’ while underwater during filming. It was never clear if the sounds were in fact footsteps, or merely just the artist’s heartbeat; nonetheless, their inclusion is deliberate.
Another choice that is used in the presentation of the video is the decision to flip the video upside down. This is done for two reasons: one, to help keep the viewer’s attention during longer, drawn out parts of the performance, and two, to create a feeling of discomfort in the viewer. Although the viewer cannot feel the lived experience of being breathless underwater physically, a feeling of unease is achieved in flipping the video. It is immediately obvious to the viewer that the footage is inverted, but this logical knowledge conflicts with the brain’s interpretation of the piece as ‘falling’ towards the viewer. Here, the artist’s discomfiture is replicated in the viewer.
This piece is as much a test of physical endurance as it is of psychological endurance. Through-out the piece, much attention can be paid to the artist’s face as he ‘struggles’ underwater. Though there are no forces physically holding him down, the artist is held down by the struggle to create a convincing piece, and this struggle forces him to remain underwater. At times, there is a sense of calm to the piece, as the artist lies peacefully in the water, as if asleep. However, at other times there is obvious conflict on the artist’s face, as he struggles to remain underwater for even longer. Additionally, the release of bubbles from the artist’s nose and mouth signify the physical release of oxygen from the lungs, something that brings in the question of both physical and psychological endurance: the artist is aware that he has just released pressure air (and therefore time), and must struggle to keep his composure despite the exit of ‘breath’.
This piece is, at times, peaceful, as the body gains comfort underwater and rests, unmoving. This progresses from being an image of the body at rest to an image of possible, but peaceful death. The artist is naked, stripped of clothing, lending an elegiac suggestion to the piece. The viewer is aware that a body left underwater too long will drown, and although drowning is not the intention of this piece, that suggestion (the lingering doubt that the body may not rise again) is constant.
This video explores the themes of its predecessors, but also moves into new territory. Where drowning pools and As Far As I Could Get were more limited in their breadth, respectively considering exterior influences on the body, and the body in motion, suffocation considers influences both external and internal (the water versus the physical capacity of the body), and the body in motion at (untimed) intervals. suffocation is a piece that is the sum of previous parts, but adds something more.