The Freedom of Speech Itself 2012 Installation view at HKW Berlin. Courtesy of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Galeri Non
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December 9, 2014

Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Politics of Listening at Armory Focus

Now that Art Basel Miami Beach has happened, it’s time for us to think ahead and start preparing ourselves for Armory Week in March of 2015. Director of the Armory Show, Noah Horowitz announced that Lawrence Abu Hamdan would be the commissioned artist for this year’s Armory Focus. Omar Kholeif, Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, will curate Armory Focus: Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean (“Focus: MENAM”), presented in collaboration with lead cultural partner, Edge of Arabia and education partner, Art Jameel. Having the Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean as geographically thematics, Kholeif gravitated toward Lawrence Abu Hamdan, a political conscious artist. In a press release for Armory Focus: “Hamdan’s practice looks to measure the relationship between politics, human rights, international law and the act of listening through the production of audio documentaries and essays, installations, sculpture, photography and performance.” We had the change to sit down with him and talk to him about the multimedia aspect and investments of his work.

Photograph by Eric T. White, courtesy of The Armory ShowPhotograph by Eric T. White, courtesy of The Armory Show

What are you currently working on?

These days I have been preparing audio ballistic analysis for Forensic Architecture and charity Defense for children International for a case in which two teenagers where shot dead at a protest in the West bank Palestine. The Israeli border guard who shot the kids claimed that he was firing rubber bullets at the protesters, through CNN and Palestinian TV footage we have the audio of both gunshots and we can hear that there is a subtle difference between the shots that killed the two teenagers and the rubber coated bullets shot at the same group of protesters. By amplifying these two fatal gunshots and by comparing the sonic frequencies they occupied to that of rubber coated bullet gunfire, we could tell that this soldier, though visibly appearing to be firing rubber bullets, was in fact firing live ammunition with the intent to murder.

What is there too much and too little of?

Too much Freedom of Speech not enough Right to Silence.


What is your relationship with Cairo?

In Cairo I made a series of works involving video, photography, cassette tape composition and performance all of which fall under the title Tape Echo 2013-14. Tape Echo proposes a series of methodologies for documenting and intervening within the dense audio space of Cairo, looking at how voices are distributed and ears damaged within the city’s rapidly changing sonic conditions. Tape Echo employs the cassette sermon, a once prolific and highly political medium of Islamic ethical circulation that has almost given way to digital distribution. Rather than archiving the tapes or registering their content, they are used as a medium to document the city, overdubbing content with recordings taken in Cairo. Since magnetic tape never deletes but merely realigns the magnetic particles it contains, the original sermons remain at the base of all new sounds recorded onto them. In that sense, the tapes are a medium, which is both part of the city’s acoustic history and a means to document its contemporary voice. A central component of this project is a video work titled The All Hearing 2014 consisting of two Cairene sheikhs delivering a sermon on the effects of the city’s amplified and over-populated audio environment on its inhabitants. These sermons were broadcast on loudspeakers at loud volumes into the streets, as is customary in what must be one of the loudest cities in the world.

Some works from this series will be exhibited at “Surround Audience” The New Museum Triennial 2015.

Other than this project my relationship to Cairo is that of a fan of the intense hyper active merciless electronic music that the city is producing and from which I fish out entire DJ sets and play at parties under the name DJ Business Class.

Conversation with an Unemployed 2013, part of Tape Echo 2013-14 Project, installation view at Beirut in Cairo. Image by Jens Maier Rothe. Courtesy of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Galeri Non.
Conversation with an Unemployed 2013, part of Tape Echo 2013-14 Project, installation view at Beirut in Cairo. Image by Jens Maier Rothe. Courtesy of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Galeri Non.

What is at the root of your investments in sound art?

I am not really a sound artist, sound is not really my craft as it were rather I consider myself an artist whose works often attempt to measure the relationship between listening and politics, borders, human rights, testimony and truth through the production of not sound works but documentaries and essays, audio-visual installations, graphic work, sculpture, photography, workshops and performance. For me to question the fundamentals of how we listen and how we speak is an inherently political question; speech is after all what makes us political animals.

Because of this my works often use the subject of sound as a probe, that puts into question how we are listening to others and how we ourselves are being heard. My work however does not only use sound because its not about the isolation of sound over other mediums but rather to employ a range visual and performative strategies that allow listening to be understood as material.

Conflicted Phonemes 2012, installation view from Aural Contract: The Whole Truth Casco Utrecht 2012. Image by Emilio Moreno. Courtesy of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Galeri Non.Conflicted Phonemes 2012, installation view from Aural Contract: The Whole Truth Casco Utrecht 2012. Image by Emilio Moreno. Courtesy of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Galeri Non.

How do you conceptualize “a performed voice”?

So for the past years I have been mostly dedicated to understanding the role of voice in law and the changing nature of testimony in the face of new regimes of border control, algorithmic technologies, medical sciences, and methodologies of eavesdropping. Wherever I have probed this question into the politics of listening and the way our voices are resounding throughout the juridico-political system, I always arrive back at a core issue, a fundamental point of tension between the two essential components that constitute speech, the saying and the said. The saying being the act of speech itself, the object quality of the voice, its sonorous materiality, unique to all. And the Said is a term that pertains to the system of language common amongst interlocutors. The said is the interpreted meaning derived from the saying, semantic speech for which often voice-sound is merely a vehicle, an excess that we quickly filter off in favor of the meaning of the words that have been uttered.

Within of the juridical and political spaces to which I have been listening over the last few years, such as asylum tribunals or interrogation rooms, I keep finding that the this battle between the saying and the said is what seems to most profoundly effect the way we represent ourselves and advocate our rights. When one of these voices is privileged over the other it can radically alter how we ourselves become constituted as subjects and how we become governed by the long the ear of the law.

What are you preparing for the Armory Show?

For the Armory Commission I am producing a collecting of works that evolve from research into the experiments of a group of Scientists at MIT who have developed something called The Visual Microphone™. This visual microphone allows them to extract sounds such as speech, by recording the micro-vibrations on the surface of objects such as the leaves of a plant or potato chip packets. Imperceptibly to us the objects that surround us are recording our every word.

Lawrence’s WILD Wish:

My WILD wish is your command

audio archiveAural Contract Audio Archive ( voice activated version) 2012. Installation view from Aural Contract: The Whole Truth Casco Utrecht 2012. Image by Emilio Moreno. Courtesy of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Galeri Non. Aural Contract Audio Archive ( voice activated version) 2012. Installation view from Aural Contract: The Whole Truth Casco Utrecht 2012. Image by Emilio Moreno. Courtesy of Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Galeri Non. 

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text by: Michael Valinsky

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