verge in rain

date 1994
location galerie am nil, kunstlerhaus rhenanian, cologne, germany
medium window, salt water, aquatic clocks, air bricks, black plastic, laboratory hoses, bakelite valves, aqua glass, 4711 perfume
dimensions variable
photographer alistair overbruck
collection artist


Reason versus wild thought, mathematical precision versus intuition, the physically measurable situation of space versus the intuitive experience of it, the sober working of space versus the dream space. Jurgen Kisters, Kunstforum, 1995

catalogue essay

to do what is necessary (To Do What is Necessary about the Installation verge in rain from Robyn Backen)

There is a gallery space in one of the old warehouses on the Cologne Rhein Port. The buildings from the beginning of this century breathe a rather morbid charm. This is typical for these buildings which are testimonies of the industrial culture. Some time ago this mechanical culture was taken over by the electronic and its own aesthetic.

Robyn has in her possession a photo of this gallery which is dominated by large windows that show a view of the Rhein. These windows are mirrored in the motionless, murky waters that filled the room to knee height during the last flood. This photo became the point of departure for the installation verge in rain, which has been produced for this space. It shows the space as paradox, with the first viewing it is hard to determine the special environment: windows that let the daylight in always define an inside and outside. Their mirroring sets up disorder and poses questions about the true proportions of space. Suddenly one is confronted by the question of objective and subjective room in this photo. The picture shows signs of physically measurable space but the effect of picture directions the attention to a suggestive space which is a subjective understanding of space, often compared to the special images of dreams.

Even today the gallery shows signs of the flood. The wall surface still carries a visual memory of the brown water level from the flood. Robyn Backen at this conceptual breaking point deals with the physiological perception, as she is always interested in the questions that talk about the flowing transitions between themes of knowing, feeling and belief. verge in rain is an energetic installation which has a high degree of symbolism, because she tries not to confine herself to the presentation of only one part of the system of the world-human-complex but she shows with fine detail a global mechanism.

Through this the installation achieves a mechanical aspect which is demonstrated: the visitor can view through a small hole in the wall. He sees his own eye in the mirror that has been mounted on the other side of the false wall. It is here that the symbolism starts. Not only are we confronted with the subjective dimension of the viewer but the narcissistic “I always see myself in others” it is demonstrated that the installation is an outlet of a visual and experimental act of the artist herself. But the conceptualising of this element is deflected by another element: salt water. In a quiet rhythm it drips between the eye of the spectator and his reflection in the mirror down to the ground, disturbing the image for a moment.

The water here has less effect on the material quotation of narcistic experience but works as deflective and irritation. It cuts contemplation and sets the energy-mechanism working. The dripping water is collected and is pumped at the roof level to a distributor. From there the salt water runs through many rubber hoses and drips on to the electronics. The chemical reaction of the water and salt produces electricity, as is the well known. In this case it functions as energy for simple electronic digital clocks. The clocks without housing show their inner life and blink randomly the time display for the viewer.

The installation verge in rain functions lastly as a Bachelor Machine. At its beginning there is a great promise that has strong erotic connotation for example the ey that is seen in the hole is possibly a reference to George Bataille’s “Story of the Eye” a book that has become one of the most important literary sources of surrealist art. In this book the hidden erotic symbolism becomes apparent in nearly all areas of human life that have a strong mythical and therefore seldom come into consciousness in our daily lives. So, mythos and eroticism are energetic motors of the installation, in which water takes over the role of transmitter. At the other end of the circulation is the constant electricity of the electrodes that produce energy for a discharge to fulfil the promise. In fact the discharge doesn’t achieve its aim, but distributes itself in the large space and is dependent on the interpretation of the viewer, the unsatisfied promise of the basic mechanism of the Bachelor Machine and the basis of energy circulation is a paradox.

Robyn Backen uses this model to show the dividing lines between organic and technology. Their relationship to one another is often irrationally or mythically grounded, that is to say on the basis of ancient experience. Eroticism, as latent as it may be, plays a very important communicative role in this context beneath the conscious combination of these two areas has an irritating effect. Although it is only too “true” because they clarify the awkward boarders between rational experience of worldview and the psychic world. verge in rain as the work of Robyn Backen in general has the merits to freshly pose the question in relationship to the early avante garde of this century, especially Duchamp and the Italian Futurists, as unpleasant as this question maybe for us. But it is the duty of art to do what is necessary.

By Friedemann Malsch 1994 (Translated by Jennison Thonkins)


Robyn Backen galerie am nil by Jurgen Kisters, Kunstforum Winter ‘95

Robyn Backen installation works 1990-1994, Exhibition Catalogue 1994-5