Omar Kholeif on Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Open Frequency Profile
Originally published on Axisweb, December 2013
The London-based artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan is interested in listening - listening as a culture, as a mediator of an experience that holds multiple readings of the truth.This preoccupation underpins a practice that sees the artist producing multi-layered audio documentaries, which are often developed through a process of extensive field research. In one of Abu Hamdan’s most extensive projects, ‘Aural Contract’ (2010-ongoing), for example, the artist explores the limits of the voice and its relationship to contemporary legal structures.
In addition to a series of audio documentaries, the project has involved the creation of an archive of juridical listening, including legal trials from Saddam Hussein to Judas Priest. This collection has been presented in different installation contexts, most recently in a solo exhibition at CASCO in Utrecht, where the artist mapped out the various legal trials in a manner that resembled an album track list.
Here, the gallery visitor’s own voice is also fore-fronted and enabled through the technology that the artist has chosen to use. One could argue that the installation at CASCO resembled a sort of speaker’s corner, where the visitor could choose from the legal track list on the wall before them and then request (with their own voice) the legal trial to be played. As the listener weaves through the archive, they are subject to a complex arrangement that explores the limits of listening as a political act - one that is simultaneously individual and collective.
Abu Hamdan’s interest in technology - the technology that informs listening processes - is also essential to an understanding of his practice. Indeed, he has built a large body of work investigating how the technology adopted by different border agencies has been used to verify claims made by asylum seekers about their identity and national origin. Through installation and performance, Abu Hamdan reveals how vulnerable such media can be.
At a talk at the Whitechapel Gallery in May 2013, the artist discussed his project ‘The Freedom of Speech Itself ‘(2012-ongoing) - a project that seeks to consider the authenticity and origin of asylum seekers’ accents. In his talk, Abu Hamdan discussed the case of a Palestinian refugee who had his accent tested by technology commonly used by legal state authorities only to reveal that simple shifts in intonation completely transposed the refugee’s identity. In this case, the subject’s pronunciation of the word ‘tomato’ dictated that he was in fact from Syria as opposed to Palestine.
What does this homogenising technology suggest about the individual, and indeed about a world where mass cultural appropriation (through these very technological forms) has literally altered our spoken (and cultural) vernacular’
Abu Hamdan’s interest in language isn’t purely sonic, however, but is also sculptural. In a solo exhibition at The Showroom Gallery in 2012 the artist sought to consider how one visualises the contours of the voice and how it is heard. Here, the artist presented voice prints (voice-fingerprints) illustrating different frequencies of two different voices saying the word ‘you’. These voice prints were presented as sound-absorbent foam sculptures, which resembled two distinct geographic planes.
This visualisation, the artist argues, enables him to draw lines between territory and voice, encouraging the listener to consider the voice as a dynamic object that has the potential to shift and develop throughout time.
Omar Kholeif, 2013
‘This is tomorrow’ is pleased to be sharing a series of artists’ profiles from Axisweb’s Open Frequency archive, in which leading curators, artists and writerspresent the work of significant emergent and mid-career artists.