Bas Princen

Artificial Sand Dune (Birdwatchers), 2001

In the Artificial Arcadia series, Princen painstakingly examines changes occurring in the Dutch landscape. Echoing the “smart mobs” analyses made by Howard Rheingold, who studies the phenomenon of forming new virtual communities with the help of wireless technologies, Princen photographs groups which have formed through a solely virtual contact. In these seemingly commonplace photographs, it is not so much what happens that matters as the way in which the people are grouped together. Here, the photographer becomes a sociologist or an anthropologist of new communities which would have no existence without current technologies. By being incarnated within a physical context, these new communities, coming about through virtual contacts, will in their turn transform the landscape in its material nature and its cultural impact, giving rise to new “virtual human architectures”, and to new social and political geographies. Princen accordingly travels around the Netherlands observing small groups of people, whose neighbourliness and shared interests have enabled them to meet one another and to gather together in at times temporarily abandoned places, often on the outskirts of the city:  old quarries, abandoned military zones, sand tips, and rubble sites…  So, in one photograph, ornithologists find themselves on a Dutch coast to photograph a Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata), a rare species of bird that has been washed up by a storm. This situation is made possible by “gizmos”, to use the expression coined by the critic Reyner Banham, and taken up by Bart Lootsma, meaning gadgets which define a specific pattern of behaviour and use of the world:  equipped with telephoto lenses and sophisticated gear, the ornithologists home in on a subject that is invisible to the viewer of the photograph, thus tightening the plot and the questioning about the nature of this reunion. These specialists actually found one another with the help of text messages sent by the person who discovered the rare species, and thus enabled them to meet up quickly. The equipment and communications systems surrounding the individual thus create the landscape and transform its perception, unbeknownst to us. Other communities—fishermen, rock fans, surfers, cross-country bikers, golfers, paintball enthusiasts, and kite flyers—are similarly created around objects and ritual practices, giving spaces a new meaning.

Nadine Labedade

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