Pat Binder
 Pat Binder

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Pat Binder's Voices

 Angela Plohman

Pat Binder's recent internet artwork 'Voices From Ravensbrueck' is a poignant look at poems written by female prisoners of the Ravensbrueck concentration camp near Berlin, Germany. Through the manipulation of the characteristics of the medium and the introduction of compelling content, she effectively makes the net art experience emotional. Binder uses the internet's characteristics to evoke the sort of sentiment that stays with the visitor a long time after the moments spent with the project. For her, the internet "allows us to look 'behind' words and to reach further associative elements (images, sound, further texts), and thus go beyond an apparent meaning in non-linear ways, which can eventually lead us to deeper levels of understanding."

Binder is a multidisciplinary artist from Argentina who now lives in Berlin. After studying in Canada in the 1980s, and spending several years in Dusseldorf, London and Zurich in the 1990s, Binder moved to Berlin in 1996. There, she joined forces with Dr. Gerhard Haupt to create the respected internet project Universes in Universe, an information and communication system for the arts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 1998, she received a fellowship from the Women's Research Program of the Berlin Senate to study documents by women at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp, in preparation for her internet art project.

Ravensbrueck was the largest women's concentration camp in Germany. Over the 6 years it was operational, it held approximately 132,000 women. 'Voices from Ravensbrueck' is a textual, audio and visual testimony to the artistic expressions of these women who depended on their creativity for survival. As a thread throughout 'Voices ...', Binder uses the metaphor of the door or the threshold, to take us on a journey through the horrific reality of life in the camp, as seen through the eyes of its captives. Our entrance point is a bleak photograph of a Ravensbrueck corridor lined with doors, which is used as the navigational map of the project. Each door leads the visitor to different parts of the site, with each representing a different aspect of life in the camp as dealt with by the women in their poetry. For example, Binder begins with the 'arrival', then takes us through 'suffering' and 'death', and ends finally with 'hope', an ending that reflects the most enduring sentiment in the poems.

Besides simply bringing the words to life on the web, Binder, with the help of her advisor on the project, Constance Jaiser, took great care to credit the women who wrote them. One level behind every poem is information about the author and the document itself. And in one unique case, Binder interviewed Ravensbrueck survivor, Mrs. Vera Hozáková. "Whenever I hear her voice, a shivering overcomes me, in particular when she recites in Czech one of her most touching poems: 'April 1942'," says Binder. "Her voice is very important, being the only sound in the whole project, as representative of the 132,000 women of Ravensbrueck."

The technical decision to create this piece on the internet was a delicate one for Binder. She was profoundly concerned about the actual interface of the computer and how it could distance the user from the content. She comments, "very aware of this, I tried to find a balance, avoiding interferences, creating very discrete navigational elements, and trying to compose a sensitive aesthetic fabric to the poems." Binder not only manages to achieve her goal, but succeeds in offering a profound alternative to the fast-paced nature of visiting web sites. Binder used Flash to present the poems on the site, timing the animation so as to linger on each line or stanza of the poem for what seems like an extremely long time. This deliberate rhythm inevitably forces the visitors to slow down. After one poem at this pace, the experience on the web site changes, and old habits of rapidly clicking through hypertext are changed, even if only for a moment.

With this project, Binder has managed to remind us (in overpowering ways) that creativity can often act as a stimulus for hope and a tool for endurance. While Voices, funded by the Daniel Langlois Foundation in Montreal, has received worldwide acclaim, it is Binder's own reaction to the work that indicates its success. "The project helped me to reconcile myself with the essence of art, to recognize it as a tenacious inner force and vital necessity, even in the most desperate circumstances, capable of keeping an individual's very last remnants of dignity, inner strength, sense of life and hope."


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