LAWRENCE ABU HAMDAN
b. 1985, Amman, Jordan. Lives and works in Dubai, UAE.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan gives new meaning to what it means to “witness.” Sound, especially, is essential to this endeavor, and its minute particulars are the artist’s foremost preoccupation. Sound is difficult to quantify through language, but this is exactly what is required of “earwitness testimony,” in which people must testify to what they heard rather than saw. The statements describing qualities of sound often result in strange comparisons, especially when recounting violent acts. For the installation Earwitness Inventory (2018), Abu Hamdan assembled ninety-five found and made objects that match the ones used to evoke the sounds in a series of historic trials. Take, for instance, a tray—representative of testimony given after the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy—which stands in for journalist Alistair Cooke’s description of the fatal gunshot as “a crackle of sharp sounds. . . . An exploded flash bulb maybe, more like a man banging a tray several times against a wall.” In another case, a fist punch in Oregon is described as sounding like a “watermelon smashing,” an “egg cracking,” and a “cinder block falling to the ground” by three separate witnesses. Abu Hamdan tells us how each testimony is preceded by the phrase, “but it didn’t sound like a punch.” Objects, in other words, become the approximations of violent acts.
The language of the law can be peculiar and rigid but also porous, and Abu Hamdan uses sound to examine its definitions. In the video Walled Unwalled (2018), walls are, quite literally, dissolved: the artist talks us through the “molecular information that migrates through our walls,” where sound waves make it so that “our walls mean nothing.” In 2013 Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius was charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who was found dead with bullet holes in her elbow, hip, and head. Pistorius had fired them through a wall, claiming he mistook her for an intruder. In Walled Unwalled, Abu Hamdan plays a recording of the testimony of Pistorius’s neighbour Michelle Berger, who had heard screams before the gunfire. Abu Hamdan turns our attention to the walls—their “internal fabric” had become the “legal gray area” between negligence and murder.
Rubber Coated Steel (2016) examines this same distinction. Abu Hamdan conducted fresh acoustic analysis of gunshots fired by Israeli soldiers in May 2014, an incident that resulted in the deaths of two Palestinian teenagers. The soldiers maintained they had used rubber- coated bullets, as is legally permissible, but Abu Hamdan visualized the sound frequencies to show that it had actually been live rounds of ammunition. The video takes the form of a tribunal for these sounds. Recreating the setup of the video, the installation work Earshot (2016) features C-type prints of colored spectograms hanging on long panels from the ceiling, as if targets in a shooting range. Art, in Abu Hamdan’s practice, is a forensic tool that uncovers what the law cannot. – SKYE ARUNDHATI THOMAS
Text by Skye Arundhati Thomas. Excerpted from Prime: Art’s Next Generation © 2022 by Phaidon Editors, £55, Phaidon. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.
b. 1984, Kaunas, Lithuania. Lives and works in Vilnius, Lithuania, and London, UK.
Working in performance, music, film, and installation, Lina Lapelytė’s practice traverses disciplines. Concerns around ecology, pop and folk culture, the everyday, and gender stereotypes are worked into pieces that play with intimacy, endurance, and the relationships between audience, artist, performer, and site. These aspects of her practice are apparent in one of her most ambitious works, Sun & Sea (Marina) (2019), an installation and opera commissioned for the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale and created collaboratively with Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė (scenography) and Vaiva Grainytė (libretto). The work, which won the Biennale’s Golden Lion for best national participation, includes a diverse cast of characters, from an indulgent Wealthy Mommy to an exhausted Workaholic, who lie on a brightly lit artificial beach, which the audience looks down on from a surrounding balcony. As the singers lazily get on with everyday activities, they intermittently sing, in solo and chorus, songs that touch on the banal and the everyday, consumption and exhaustion, all subtly threaded through with references to the climate emergency. Sung continuously for up to eight hours with swelling synthesizers, faintly heard field recordings, and simple broken-chord accompaniments, there is no clearly defined beginning or end to the piece, and the audience is free to come and go throughout the duration.
Lapelytė’s early musical background was formed by Lithuania’s rich folk-music traditions, as well as learning the classical violin and spending time in her mother’s choir rehearsals. This has influenced her approach to musical conventions and the ways in which they can both reflect and question societal norms. For example, in Hunky Bluff (2014), Lapelytė explores how voices and sounds come to be gendered, working with female performers who have “masculine” low voices to sing arias originally intended for the “feminine” high-pitched voices of castrati. As in all her works, Lapelytė allowed the musical and performative aspects of this piece to develop in response to the character, identities, and capacities of the performers themselves. In this way, she explores professional and amateur approaches to performance, as well as notions of failure, sometimes testing the endurance of the performers and pushing them to near collapse—as with her work Pirouette (2017), in which a retired ballerina pirouettes as a clarinetist uses circular breathing to produce a single, continuous note.
Throughout her practice, Lapelytė places emphasis on our interdependencies, showing how collaboration, not competition, creates conditions of mutual flourishing and sustenance. This is central to Lapelytė’s own ecological consciousness, which she has reflected on in the performance, installation, and sound work Currents (2020) (reiterated as a website intervention for Glasgow International as Instructions for the Woodcutters, 2021), which shows the power of collective rhythm and voice to both destroy and heal. – YATES NORTON
Text by Yates Norman. Excerpted from Prime: Art’s Next Generation © 2022 by Phaidon Editors, £55, Phaidon. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.
b. 1986, Perth Amboy, NJ, USA. Lives and works in Newark, NJ, USA.
Sondra Perry’s multifaceted practice explores the entanglement of identity with digital technologies, uncovering the ways in which inequities related to race, labour, and representation are both constructed and reinforced. Her eerie narratives—often created with blue-screen technology and open- source software and featuring 3D avatars—reflect on the ways in which Blackness is shaped and disseminated in virtual space, manipulating and recontextualizing the very tools of surveillance and control whose intricacies her works uncover.
Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation (2016) is an interactive video installation combining an exercise bike with three screens to mimic an employee workstation. The seamless incorporation of the monitors into the fitness device mirrors how expectations of labour can often be embedded in activities that purport to serve alternate purposes. Viewers are summoned to pedal while watching the artist’s 3D avatar address topics such as productivity and success under capitalism. In the video, Perry’s avatar appears as a disembodied head floating in an undistinguished space, alternating between chroma-key blue (used for blue-screen animation and special effects rendering) and an extreme close-up of her skin—highly modified and magnified, yielding unrecognisable form, and resembling more of a moving membrane than a representative being.
In the immersive environment Typhoon coming on (2018), Perry created an oceanic simulation through Blender Software’s Ocean Modifier tool, an open-source graphics program, and projected it on the walls of the exhibition space. The projection morphs between an electric purple ocean surface and a digitally manipulated image of J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship. The original Turner painting was inspired by the Zong massacre of 1781, during which the captain of a slave ship threw 133 enslaved people overboard to claim insurance money. Rendered in an ominous purple glow, the animation thus envelops the viewer in the waves of the Middle Passage, its digital manipulation prompting us to consider how history seeps into the technological present.
Perry’s use of open-source software points to her larger commitment to net neutrality and a belief in democratising access to art and culture. Perry leases her videos digitally for use in galleries or in classrooms and also makes them available to view for free online. At the same time as she reveals technology’s insidious reach, she also utilises it for good. Acting both as a corrective and disruptive force, Perry’s practice discloses the emancipatory possibilities of art and technology, carving a generative space that reorganises and re-presents our present to prime us for limitless futures. –CHARLOTTE EYTAN
Text by Charlotte Eytan. Excerpted from Prime: Art’s Next Generation © 2022 by Phaidon Editors, £55, Phaidon. Reproduced by permission of Phaidon. All rights reserved.