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Lawrence Abu Hamdan's largest institutional solo exhibition to date opens 4 March 2022 at Sharjah Art Foundation. The Sonic Image brings together new iterations of recent multisensory works alongside an ambitious new commission and a site-specific performance by the Turner Prize-winning artist. Together, these works represent the ongoing evolution of Abu Hamdan's practice, from his innovative approach to the mapping of sounds and aural environments, to his continued interest in revealing narratives concealed from history. On view through 4 July 2022, the exhibition is curated by Dr Omar Kholeif, the Foundation's Director of Collections and Senior Curator.
Abu Hamdan visualises and maps sound to trace immaterial forms of surveillance and control, a concept he calls 'atmospheric violence.' Through research and analysis, the artist has created a distinct aesthetic practice by fluctuating between the visual and aural. The Sonic Image brings together works that represent a wide spectrum of the artist's various studies, from the boundaries between sound and visualisation, and translation and testimony, to his explorations of the mechanisms used to suppress stories of vulnerable peoples throughout history.
"Lawrence Abu Hamdan's art presents an entirely distinct approach to image culture, blurring the boundaries between multiple forms of research and expression," says Dr Kholeif. "Here, viewers are encouraged to listen to images and to consider the latent stories hidden within them. With this exhibition, the artist firmly asserts himself as one of the leading artists of his generation."
Anchoring this exhibition is the major new commission, Air Conditioning (2022), filling an entire gallery space, the large-scale work maps the violations of the Lebanese sky by the Israeli air force from 2006 to present, caused by reconnaissance drones and deafening roars of fighter Jets. Drawing on 15 years of data, Abu Hamdan has translated each aerial violation using Houdini FX, a 3D animation and special effects application, onto a 54-metre cloudscape, with each centimetre reflecting a single day. Within each centimetre, the artist has indicated the frequency, type and altitude of disturbances through the density, colour and placement of a cloud. Together, the data points form a haunting image of noise pollution in Lebanon, prompting audiences to encounter each of these ephemeral moments as a single accumulated event, the aftermath of one long explosion.
The artist's detailed documentation of the sky over Lebanon was also a starting point for a new site-specific iteration of his evolving performance Daght Jawi (2021–2022), presented in the brutalist architecture of Sharjah's iconic landmark The Flying Saucer. Daght Jawi, taking place on 6 March during the opening days of the exhibition, the performance of this newly extended audio-visual work brings to life a visualisation and live audio processing of the roaring sky of Lebanon, presented in chronological order of the sounds as they were documented.
Other works in the exhibition demonstrate Abu Hamdan's adept approach to drawing attention to the subjugation and historical erasure of vulnerable peoples, such as The Witness-Machine Complex (2021), which the artist has evolved since its debut in Nuremberg last year. The work examines the role of translators during the Nuremberg trials in 1945–1946, which marked the first ever use of a system for simultaneous translation. The only indication of the translators' presence in the film footage of the trial is marked by the flashing yellow and red lights built into the witness stand and the prosecutor's podium. The Witness-Machine Complex reanimates the way in which these lights flashed in the original trial, symbolising the type of obstacles that need to be traversed in order to translate an experience into a testimony. The work is presented alongside the work Errata (2022), a series of carbon paper prints, where the artist intervenes into the trials' original transcript and reinserts the interruptions that were eliminated. The artist pushes these ideas further with A Thousand White Plastic Chairs (2020), a film that documents a live performance in the dark by the artist where his own voice is subjected to similar treatment with flashing yellow and red lights—both disrupting and informing his speech and thought.
Further representing the artist's interest in testimony and bringing overlooked narratives to the fore, For the Otherwise Unaccounted ( 2019-2022) consists of a series of prints birthmarks photographed by psychiatrist Dr Ian Stevenson, who investigated claims of reincarnation on multiple continents. Stevenson used birthmarks as a way to identify the circumstances of one's death in a previous life, and in doing so, created a collective history of people who may have otherwise been erased from history due to various forms of suppression. By isolating these birthmarks, Abu Hamdan explores the ways that testimony is stored in the body. In a similar vein, the works Shot Twice (By the Same Bullet) (2021) and A Speculative Portrait (for a Boy Who Returned without His Face) (2020), together explore the experiences of 35-year old writer and historian Bassel Abi Chahine, who is the reincarnation of a soldier who died in 1984 at the age of 16. Concluding the exhibition are works focused on political silence and suppression: the 6 colour C-print photographs comprising Earshot (2016) and the single-channel video work Rubber Coated Steel (2016).
Lawrence Abu Hamdan is a ‘private ear’, an artist who investigates sound. As well as exhibiting internationally, his work has been used as evidence at the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and in major advocacy campaigns by Amnesty International and Defence for Children International, together with Forensic Architecture.
Abu Hamdan’s work has been presented in solo exhibitions at Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2021); Secession, Vienna (2020); Towner Eastbourne, UK (2020); Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2019); Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2019); Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis (2019); Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2019); Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, US (2019); Chisenhale Gallery, London (2018); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2018); Tate Modern Tanks, London (2018); Portikus, Frankfurt (2016); and Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, Switzerland (2015). His works have been shown in group exhibitions at the Mudam, Luxembourg (2020); Munich Documentation Centre for the History of Socialism (2019); 58th Venice Biennale (2019); Sharjah Architecture Triennale (2019); Sharjah Biennial 14 (2019); Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne (2018); Sharjah Biennial 13, Sharjah and Ramallah (2017); and Gwangju Biennale (2016), among others.
His work is part of the collection at many international museums, including MoMA, New York; Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, the Netherlands; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and Tate Modern, London. He is the author of the artist book [inaudible]: A Politics of Listening in 4 Acts (Sternberg Press, 2016).
Among Abu Hamdan’s numerous awards are the Jean Vigo Award for Best Director, Punto de Vista, Pamplona, Spain (2020); German Federal Foreign Office Dialogue Award, 33rd European Media Art Festival (2020); Edvard Munch Art Award (2019); Turner Prize, Tate, London (2019); Baloise Art Prize, Art Basel (2018); and Tiger Short Award, Rotterdam International Film Festival (2017). He was a guest of the DAAD Künstlerprogramm, Berlin (2017–2018), and a fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, New School, New York (2015–2017).
Abu Hamdan holds a BA from Middlesex University, London (2008), and an MA and PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London (2017).
Born in Amman in 1985, he currently lives and works in Dubai.
Opening hours, access:
Sat - Thu 9:00 am - 9:00 pm
Fri 4:00 pm - 9:00 pm
All SAF exhibitions are free and open to the public.
From SAF website information.
© Cover image: Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation.
The Afterlives of the Postcolonial. Online and in-person, 5 - 7 March 2022. An integral part of the framework for Sharjah Biennial 15, opening in 2023.
The Sonic Image. 4 March - 4 July 2022, Al Mureijah Square, SAF. The largest institutional solo exhibition by the artist to date. Curator: Omar Kholeif.