In the beginning no bird sang

The project ‘In the beginning no bird sang’ is a photo, video and audio installation about IJburg. Jean Poppers, a blind man that lives there, introduces photographer Anaïs López to this new part of Amsterdam. Anaïs López spent 18 months exploring the island for hours with Jean. He has a special gift; he recognizes almost all the birds on IJburg and can find his way around this new island based on their specific sounds. The most important thing that Anaïs López has learned from Jean during their many walks together is to stop using her eyes and listen to the city instead. Anaïs López photographed the island through his ‘eyes’.

The photography and video installation consisted of a wooden wall with 39 showboxes. These boxes showed still and moving images and audio. Through small holes you got to see Jeans world, his strolls through nature and the birds of IJburg. You heard the sound of the birds and you saw the IJburg fanfare playing at the waterside and Jean and his dog sitting at the table as though they are a married couple.

The sound installation was made in collaboration with Hannes Wallrafen, an Amsterdam audiographic artist who is blind as well. For her project ‘In the beginning no bird sang’ Anaïs asked him to make a sound portrait of the island where the main character Jean lives. Exploring the island together, they recorded the sounds that comprise IJburg for Jean, encapturing the three places that Jean often visits in three recordings. This resulted in a sound portrait of this new part of the city. In the darkened room you could sit down and experience Jean’s world.

‘In the city, you hear sparrows, pigeons and starlings. On IJburg, blackbirds, great tits, mute swans and black-tailed godwits. But I haven’t heard the godwit for a long time. That’s because of the artificial fields – the godwit knows immediately that something like that isn’t real. And it isn’t going to fall for that.’ – Jean

The project was exhibited at Arcam (where IJburg was designed), different public libraries and at Format Festival (UK). The project was nominated for the Dutch Doc Award. The work was acquired by the first public library in IJburg.

“It really was an extraordinary exhibition. I am so glad that I had the chance to physically be there in the show and experience it.”  –  Kees / vistor from the institute for the blind. 


Photography: Anaïs López
Text: Bo Tarenskeen
Graphic design: Teun van der Heijden

Film & Photography: Anaïs López
Sound installation: Hannes Wallrafen
Curator: Visual Brothers

This publication has been made possible with the financial support of the Mondriaan Fund, the Amsterdam Fund for Arts, the Licht & Liefde Foundation and the Blindenhulp Foundation.