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[Exhibition] Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Earwitness Theatre (2018)

4. [Exhibition] Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Ear

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Earwitness Theatre (2018), Chisenhale Gallery.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s exhibition Earwitness Theatre at Chisenhale Gallery is about ‘hearing’ and ‘seeing’. We can hear the hallucinatory world of the earwitnesses from their interviews. We can see the reconstruction processes of sounds through found objects. Through this kind of acoustic and visual investigations, Adu Hambdan addresses the complexity of languages and memories, and the urgency of human rights and advocacy.


Sounds come from a completely dark listening room with the audio work Saydnaya (the missing 19db) (2017) as the central of the exhibition. We can hear the earwitnesses talking about the sounds of torture and execution at Saydnaya. The sounds depict the intensifying quietude and brutality that followed the 2011 Syrian revolution, combines interview excerpts from the voices of the earwitnesses with flat tones representing auditory environments ranging from whispering inside the prison and whistling from the outside.


‘This silence detains the relevance and sensitivity of sound. Survival of savvy depends on the use of sound to map the movement of the guards in the prison,’ one of the earwitnesses said. The installation mimics the voice profiling the earwitnesses used to reconstruct their imprisonment, inviting the listener to enter a sensory immersion and speculate about the narrative context. The work suggests that hearing is an important means of knowing and understanding an event. The earwitnesses were blindfolded in the prison and they never saw where they were. With an acute sensitivity to sound, we can understand what was happening inside, based on what the prisoners had heard.


Surrounded the audio installation is Earwitness Inventory (2018) which includes a car door, a rack of trays, unwound video tapes, stepladders, a selection of shoes, watermelon with soft drinks bottles on the floor and metal selves covered with popcorns, pinecone, pasta and Arabic bread all derived from legal cases. The objects echo the sonic descriptions of the earwitnesses, for example, building collapsing sounds like popcorn, corpse-dumping sounds like violently closing a car door, and a gunshot sounds like dropping a rack of trays. The comprehensive display of various objects visualises the experience and memory of sonic violence in Saydnaya with a connection of the sound effects.


There is also a rolling text on the wall continuously detailing how prisoners heard the clumps of guards on metal stairs at the brutal Saydnaya military prison in Syria, and the punch of being beaten with a plastic bottle. It further reveals Abu Hamdan’s auditory-based investigation of earwitness testimony of Saydnaya survivors. Using artifacts and discarded quotidian objects, Abu Hamdan transforms the space of the gallery into one of introspection. This allows the viewer – and the listener - to become aware of the relationships between investigative journalism, human rights campaigns and conceptual art.

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