Kristina Leko and David Smithson: Snoring in the USA – 14 channel video installation

Snoring in the USA Snoring in the USA is a multi-channel video installation, a poetic and ironical work that deals with America and our fascination with it; a visual essay about clichéd images that adopts elements of the road movie, recording a trip by car through the American West. Although the motivation of the artists is very personal, the experimental documentary form is the work’s chief determining feature. The monumental set-up of the installation in the Art Pavilion with its fourteen large-format projections tests out the relation of documentarily-relevant information, narration and the abstract image; at the same time it takes as its theme the contemporary global visual heritage. The installation shows some of the most important locations from film history (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Las Vegas and so on) as well as anonymous small towns, gas stations, drive in cemeteries. The material shot in 2003 from radio and TV broadcasts also records a historical moment, the American fight against terrorism, and the war in Iraq. 

The video records a week’s journey around the region of the Colorado plateau, from a Monday to a Sunday. Seven video projections show night-time video sessions. These are infra-red camera shots of beds in hotel rooms on which a man and a woman are sleeping. Each night is recorded in its full length, while in the final we look at an edited version lasting twenty minutes. The sound image consists of various kinds of breathing, moaning and groaning, while at the beginning of each night-time video we can hear voice off parts of television programmes with dialogues from western movies, news and so on. The second seven projections show diary records taken on the whole from the car along the 3200 kilometres driven through the states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and Arizona.


We look at the impressive landscapes, scenes that have been seen countless times, the usual sets of western and road films, then the everyday life in the small towns; houses and people pass by, cars and gas stations, we see diners, malls, cemeteries, the little museum of Navajo heroes located in a Burger King, and always and again the American flag. The sound background consists of the occasional dialogue between the driver and his female passenger, and of the radio broadcasts – music, commercials and news. The news on the whole relates to George W. Bush and his activity in the fight against terrorism, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. In part, these video recordings also contain shots of TV screens made at the end of the day, in the hotel before sleeping (for example, a segment of an interview with Michael Moore about the reasons for the Bush attack on Iran, and part of a conversation with Noam Chomsky about socialism and the anti-war demonstrations). 

The juxtaposition of snoring with the iconographically profiled clichéd scenes of America taken from the car is the basic conceptual and formal element of the work. The recordings from the car, which moves relatively fast, have in their very monotony a meditative character. It’s hard to stop watching such shots because there is no end to them. On the other hand, the landscape that passes by us evokes adventure, and is a typical element in the road film. Juxtaposition of typical scenes of America, which we know well because of their enormous presence in the media, with the sometimes irritating sound of snoring puts the audience in a confusing situation. Because of the way in which the installation is set up, the sound of snoring becomes a soundtrack for all the video projections. And this irritation with its impolite noise contains an ironical message, and is intended to induce detachment in the viewer from the beauty of the scene, i.e. the landscape we are watching. Visually, the seven-fold image of scenes of America is contrasted with seven black and white, static frames in which almost nothing at all is going on, just two people sleeping, switched off from the world that we are watching hypnotically.  

Text: Mirela Ramljak Purgar i Krešimir Purgar