A whispering scene in Fellini’s classic film La Dolce Vita, famous whispering walls in India, and a fascination with technology, language and codes are all influences behind the latest installation by artist Robyn Backen.

Backen’s Whisper Pitch, a site-specific installation in the Carriageworks foyer, features two parabolic-shaped brick walls facing each other. Inside, speakers embedded discretely in the walls softly emit multi-lingual recordings of whispering voices, including a translation of the whispering scene in Fellini’s film.

The parabolic walls bounce sound from one end to the other, making it seem like whispers are spoken directly into your ear.

The parabolic walls bounce sound from one end to the other, making it seem like whispers are spoken directly into your ear.

The work developed out of her fascination with architectural structures and the whispering walls that can be found in churches, cathedrals, mosques and other places of worship and contemplation.

Backen, a lecturer at the Sydney College of the Arts, writes: “Amid the ambient noise and bustle of public buildings, whispering walls offered the possibility for discretion and secrecy in the open. The spoken word of one person reflects and travels in a straight line to the opposite side of the parabola or elliptoid, so it is as if the words are spoken directly into the ear of another.”

Earlier this year she made audio, video and still recordings at the tomb of the 16th century ruler Akbar in the Indian city of Agra, and at Gol Gumbaz, a 17th century mausoleum, and the world’s second largest dome, in the Central India in the town of Bijapur.

Robyn Backen coordinates the Masters of Studio Art at Sydney College of the Arts.
Robyn Backen coordinates the Masters of Studio Art at Sydney College of the Arts.

“I am interested in old architectural sites,” Backen says. “The ambience of these spaces is quite special and there is something spiritual about being in these spaces.”

Backen has a two-year Australia Council Fellowship that will allow her to continue her travel to historical whispering architecture throughout the world to create more works. Her sights are now set on Central Station in New York City and St Paul’s Cathedral London.
Robyn Backen has shown in many national and international exhibitions and completed many large public commissioned artworks such as Weeping Walls, Sydney International Airport 2001; Delicate Balance at Ballast Point Park for the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority 2009; and Walls that Whisper, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra 2009. She coordinates the Masters of Studio Art at Sydney College of the Arts.

Event details

What: Whisper Pitch by Robyn Backen

When: Exhibition opening 6pm, Thursday 19 April. This exhibition will be open 10am to 6pm daily until 19 May.

Where: Carriageworks, 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh. See map

Cost: Free

Whisper Pitch is presented by Performance Space.