Esther Venrooij

– Grey Alder 2023

Esther Venrooij has built an international reputation with her work about the interaction between sound and space. She is known for her attentive and sensitive approach, which always results in extremely balanced and spine-chilling compositions and installations. Her fascination for listening – to others or to an environment, as well as the observation of those who listen – invariably leads to the development of impressive compositions in terms of image and sound.

For the festival she develops an installation within the scope of LANDSCAPES | Feel Flanders Fields. For this purpose she reads and watches testimonials from soldiers on both sides of the front line during WWI, such as controversial writer Ernst Jünger. Her main interest lies in the description of sounds and soundscapes consisting of background noises, static and auditory hallucinations. Moments of severe intensity alternate with absolute silence, as illustrated aptly by the recent blockbuster ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. One soldier testifies that he listens much more than he hears. At 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918, the war violence abruptly ceases. All of a sudden, the world goes dead quiet.

Venrooij translates all of this into a very layered work method. Together with performer Niels Demeirleir Venrooij works on a series of gestures inspired by listening to the erstwhile war landscape around Ypres and Watou. For instance, looking up and listening while lying flat on the ground, legs bent and head turned to the side, whispering or leaning against a tree.

Audiovisual recordings are made of this site-specific performance with film maker Ans Mertens. In turn, these form the basis for a series of large overlapping line drawings as a kind of ‘dual images’. For the quadrophonic sound installation through four speakers Venrooij not only listens to the surrounding erstwhile war landscape; once again she draws inspiration from historic audio and visual material.

During her field research in the Ypres region Esther Venrooij, in addition to the ‘scars in the landscape’, also finds several other first-hand witnesses of the total destruction: trees. ‘Grey Alder’ represents a species of birch that was once quite common in the region.

Esther Venrooij considers her dual roles as artist and composer as occupying two different sensorial planes. She creates work in a variety of media, such as composed music, drawing, video and site-specific installations. With a sharp focus, both in her studies and creative impulses on audio topography, she explores the way sound inhabits space.

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