On day one I spent nearly 2.5 hours in a room with total silence. At first I was unbelievably worried. For a long time I couldn't get a hold of myself. I wasn't at all prepared morally for this project. I didn't know what would happen. I had never been in such circumstances – in total silence. I couldn't move. I had to constantly stand in one place, and this was so difficult. It was very difficult. The silence tore your ears apart – the pressure was so strong that you could hear your blood flowing. You begin to hear and feel yourself on a cellular level. It's not easy.
People came in and reacted very differently. I had to stand with my back to them – I didn't see them, I only heard them. They reacted very honestly to this space and to me. When you see a person – no matter who it is – you are often won over by their behavior, movements, facial expressions. And when a person is aware of this and knows how to use it – you deceive yourself. In those circumstances, I only heard their voice, when they spoke, how they reacted. It was very sincere – they couldn't lie. Because of the incredible silence I thought any second now I would start hearing how they breathe, how their skin breathes. I heard them swallow and blink their eyes. It was an amazing discovery. Honestly, on the first day my brain exploded from all the discoveries.
My feet were swollen, my entire body, everything inside hurt, all my organs. I had to stand motionless for two hours. Even worse–there was no floor, the mesh and wires I was standing on cut into my heels. I thought that at any moment my feet would crack, my heels and my toes would crack, and blood would start spurting. The scariest was when the door would close. I understood that new people were entering, with different attitudes, forms of behavior – and this made the first day increasingly scary. I read my text more often, spoke my words as if praying. In such unusual circumstances different people test you with their behavior, their reaction–to see whether you can handle it or not. And when people I knew came in I could hear their voices and know it was them.
I listened to every sound. The most interesting thing is that few people grasped the effect of this room: when you turn your head and start talking to the wall, your voice is completely absorbed by these walls, and the people standing behind the speaker hear almost nothing. But the person speaking hears everything – even the slightest whisper. On day one I wasn't ready for this discovery. Then, after about an hour (although I didn't know how much time had really passed) I entered a strange state of the most powerful meditation. This doesn't just happen in real life. Because in nature there is no total silence, there are no situations in life when you are shut behind a 1.5 ton door with people you don't know at all, not knowing how they will react. And everyone reacted differently.
There was a very funny incident on the first day. Some people came with their children, and the children, who were probably well-versed in art, said: "Oh, so it's an interactive installation. Got it. Let's go on." It was great when some girls came into the room a second time. I heard them standing behind me, then they held hands and began to sing. They sang not with words or motive, but like in a choir. It was cool. I felt like I was in my own temple of silence and things got easier. The pain was so strong that I didn't think I would last. Then an hour later, maybe an hour and a half, I thought I had flown away somewhere. I don't remember who entered. I remember them singing and "helping" me. I remember that people applauded and said something. I don't remember anything they said on the first day. I was so taken by this space and what I was saying. I said the text regardless of whether the door was closing or opening. When someone left or I was alone it was very difficult to talk, my throat hurt, I said some phrases, passages, words, stopped, and was silent for several seconds between words. I transcended myself, and this was a totally new experience.
I sank into meditation. I spoke a Buddhist question about the sound of one hand clapping and seemed to begin to understand what it's about. I essentially did what was in the text. At first I was probably doing a performance, and then stopped "doing a performance". I needed the process. Immersed in it, I didn't realize opening day had ended and I had to leave. One of the curators, Lyuda Skrynnykova, came inside, listened to me, and then very carefully came over and took my hand. I couldn't leave. It was so hard for me. I remember she helped me, supported and led me. Only later, on my way home, did I realize how happy I was. It was a state of euphoria that's impossible to explain in words, it was like something from heaven. I walked around with a smile on my face.
In the following days people reacted differently. One man, under forty, was in the echo room and was very happy. Because there was no assistant that day, he came to the room of silence several times and understood its secret, its stunning effect: when you talk to a wall the sound changes. That's how he heard his own voice for the first time, and it was a discovery for him. It was very interesting to talk to him about this later.
There were a lot of people. All absolutely different. Some came several times. On the last day everyone saw me as part of the room. On the first day many people simply didn't react to me because I was wearing black. They didn't realize there was a real person before them. They didn't see me because they were going from light into darkness. Many were frightened when I started talking. On the final day some guys came with their friends. They were well prepared: they brought a video camera and recorded themselves. "How awesome that we can be in a room of silence and hear our own voice. We may never hear it in our lives" - they said, trying to somehow get this on camera. One guy said to the camera: "This is my voice. It's changed. I'm saying hi to myself".
My friend Kostya couldn't take it and after my performance ran into the room again, came up to me and said: "My ear drums almost burst from this silence. I was afraid I would lose consciousness. I had such a strange feeling, as if you're being corked, closed inside somewhere. I didn't understand what was going on with me, especially when I began to speak. I was aware that my voice was changing, but I began to panic because I began to understand something about myself. It got dark and seemed that a bit more and I would turn off and that's it". His words were very similar to what I felt. "The most notable day was probably the last. There were an incredible number of people. They came non-stop". My performance that day lasted not 2.5 hours, but 4.
There were guys that just didn't want to leave. They sat in the room of silence for 30-40 minutes, staying with the next group of visitors. They were closed in again and again because they didn't want to listen to Sasha, the assistant, and leave. They listened to me. And at one point they began repeating my words. I would say something, wouldn't even complete a phrase when they were already repeating after me. "What is the mind?", "What is the heart?", "It's…" and they would say instead of me "the truth". I was saying that when music is created by someone, a musician or musical instrument, it's a conflict. Music comes from conflict – and here they are repeating me, even beating me to my own words. I didn't know how long they were there, what day it was, whether they memorized the words beforehand or simply remembered them.
After 4 hours there, constantly talking (it doesn't even compare to the first day) I hated everyone that came in. I thought: "Go away, I don't like you and don't want to listen to you. Listening to you is painful". I was in pain. I felt even the slightest rustle, like someone had put nails in my ears that were being hammered into my brain. I was constantly transcending myself. All my limbs were exhausted because people wouldn't leave and I couldn't move. My entire body was swollen and it was even difficult to move my eyes. It was as if I merged with this room. I felt as if my feet had taken the form of the grid, my heels cut into it and fell through the metal wires and fixtures. It was so painful when someone walked on the grid, as if someone was sticking swords into me. The boys sat quietly and I grew quiet, because it was so hard to talk. From the silence we seemed to have merged with this space, and the silence hurt your ears even more. Interestingly, I stopped thinking about anything. Probably for the first time in my life. The only thing I thought about was them leaving. I felt these guys sucking the life out of me. I felt worse and worse. And suddenly I began choking on my own saliva. I couldn't breath. I coughed, trying to catch my breath, stood calmly, but couldn't do anything to help myself! I had a severe coughing fit, tightening in my chest, the pain and coughing tore at everything. The funny thing is that the guys thought this was supposed to happen. They didn't react. They continued to sit and watch. And suddenly, trying to catch my breath, I realized that if this continues I'll stop breathing altogether, I'll fall and nobody will help me. Everyone will think it's supposed to happen. And the doors are opened only every 5–7 minutes. I was truly scared. Probably because standing (or sitting) behind me were people, who, like I, had plunged into the silence, into the abyss, the void. I began to sense people very intensely. There were times when it seemed that I was starting to feel and hear their thoughts. That all their thoughts, both strange and evil, were about me.
Among the last to enter were a group likely just passing by–two women, a man and a young child. They didn't expect the door to close behind them and started to panic. Because they had a small child, they tried to control themselves but were still very worried.
It happened that on that day I forgot a change of clothes and was just wearing a dress. The dress belonged to my grandmother's. It's very funny. It's frilly, like in films from the early 20th century. They saw me from behind and thought I was a mannequin, started laughing loudly, and said: "Look, look! It's a mannequin!" And then I started to speak. And of course they were very frightened. The woman says: "My God, it's the horror film 'The Ring'!" She didn't believe I was a real person. The man says: "There's a tape player under us on the podium." They decided to see whether I was real or maybe a robot. Some people thought that because I spoke without emotion, in a monotone. Then the woman decided to poke me with something. She says: "Oh, let's see, maybe it really is a mannequin, let's hit her, poke her with something, bite her." She started coming closer and probably really did want to touch me, but heard that I was talking. It scared her that I was a real person. This was already my third hour standing and my feet and body hurt so much that I decided to change position and moved my leg. And because I grew so unaccustomed to moving, I swayed a bit. She was next to me and started shouting: "Look, she's moving!" They lost it. They began laughing so hard I thought they would fall down. They laughed for the three minutes that remained and couldn't stop, they had a panic attack, a fit of laughing hysteria. They didn't understand the meaning of my room, didn't hear themselves, were constantly talking and laughing. At the end the man decided to settle down and says: "What's the point?". He approaches me as I'm finishing speaking and I respond: "I suggest that you listen in this room of total silence to your own music, music that is impossible to extract and is your essence". And he says: "Oh, now I get it! We had to become aware of ourselves! You could have said that sooner".
Another story – a man and a woman: the man strongly recommended that the woman, most likely his wife, be quiet for once in her lifetime. Somehow he learned this was the room of silence. I heard them enter and the man said something angrily: "I brought you for the first time in your life to a room of total silence, be quiet, please, for once in your life!" Those were his instructions to her – but he spoke all the time while she kept silent.
One time some guys wanted to scream. They entered and one immediately said: "I want to scream!" And they told him: "No, hold on. Masha will be scared!" The whole time he tried to scream. In the end he made some uncertain sound, but never did shout. I'm so afraid that this unrealized dream may remain with him all his life. In the room of total silence he wanted to scream with all his might – but nothing happened.
So much was going on, but the nicest and most unexpected discovery for me was this: only when we completely transcend ourselves, renounce our pain – only then can we discover something new about ourselves. I had never felt pain like this, never reached that state, that moment when you stop feeling pain, your body remains your body, but you separate and fly away somewhere. And the only thing connecting you with the world is the pain in your ears. All the sounds were so sharp, crisp, clear, clean. They may be deaf, but in this deafness they are strangely crisp, not as usual. I heard all my internal movements. I heard my heartbeat – I bent over slightly, listened, and this really surprised me. It was a remarkable experience. An experience that you won't get just like that. The funniest and most interesting thing is how people behave. Some said: "That's all?!" They didn't even try to understand, to hear themselves. Some were the opposite, they were so silent that they merged with me and didn't utter a sound. It's as if you're merging with another person that you'll never see.
I dreamt about my own silence a lot after that. This silence is a very strong ringing in your ears. It's like a load that's been thrown on you but you can't carry it, you don't understand how to carry it. Your legs turn to jelly. It's an experience that you can't get in "social" life, in "ordinary" life. It goes beyond. And you understand that right now you are a tool, a building material that is being tested. Everything else is unreal. People come in – but it's unclear whether they're people or not, or just echoes. But you are a living material. And this "sensibility" is the only reality.
*transcript of Maria's video diary in which she talks about her impressions and the audience's reaction to the performance "Music of Unextructed Sounds".