whispering trees by marie jeanne de rooij
In the last few years, it has become perfectly normal to see or hear a random passer-by behind you or next to you apparently talking to him or herself in a loud voice without even being slightly aware of your presence. All sorts are involved: men in smart suits, women in summer dresses blown about by the wind, skaters with boards under their arms or nose picking teenagers boredly waiting for a bus at an overfull bus stop. Unashamed and in full abandon, the mobile equipment pulled from their chest or trouser pocket, walking bag or briefcase, from within their own bubble, they desperately seek contact with an invisible other.
In the past (ten, fifteen years ago?) it was easy to recognize the average nutcase, absent-mindedly muttering to themselves in the vicinity of other people, with no concept of social conventions, fully immersed in the limited action radius of their own bodies, with the electropulse circuit in their heads run amuck - the eccentric primarily occupied with his or her own unfathomable concerns. Beyond any shame.
Today, however, due to our publicly uninhibited mobile communication, the distinction between being crazy and well-adapted has become wafer thin and at first sight rather vague. The undercurrent emerges naked in snatches, and crudely and uninvited, pushes its way into the territory of random passers-by. Fascinated by communication processes in an age of technological acceleration, Robyn Backen plays with the margins and possibilities of both old and new codes and communication systems, for example by using computer-operated technology. Actually, she plays an ambiguous game, courting both the desire to infuse worn-out patterns of thought with new life by making them visible, visually tangible and frequently also audible and readable as well as that other desire to enter into the old pact of the mysterious intangibility of language communication. For Backen, the frequent use of morse signs with many interesting visual, light & sound, and graphical possibilities is a perfectly usable bridge between the different old and new systems.
On the Lange Voorhout, using an ingeniously programmed sound and light system, again with morse codes, she gives visitors the illusion that trees are able to allow us to hear and see the left messages, questions and snatches of conversation of earlier passers-by. This they do at unexpected moments, briefly allowing you to become part of someone elseÕs conversation, the context of another story or the undercurrent of another life. Backen makes us doubt; what is real and what is unreal? The pre-programmed voice that responds to our footsteps, a light feint to the right that activates a sensor, or the voice in your ear that eases you away from where you are and transports you to a virtual world where according to agreed conversational codes, together with a 'known' other, you become involved in a fictional mobile adventure?
Via an artificially set up seemingly at random language system, actually old-fashioned romantically and against her better judgment, Backen translates our fascinating, but 'impersonal' technology into a 'human' framework, and descends to the deeper layers of our brain system. Perhaps she will seduce you into thinking that in the future, both systems could converge in perfect balance; two systems, two worlds entangled in each other's networks Ð technology and brainstem -, which understand (hear & comprehend) each other in an infinite in&out current of words, so that eventually, communication will be without beginning and without end. That desire for cyborg fusion with the gain of the other and the loss of yourself has a vertigo attraction for anyone sensitive to the fluid undercurrents between the self and the other. Robyn Backen has us listen to what trees may tell us in whispered tones as a foretaste of more to come.