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Lawrence Abu Hamdan: The Voice Before the Law

His audiovisual works explore the political and legal implications of voice, language and communication. Hamburger Bahnhof Berlin, 2019-2020
Jan 2020

The Voice Before the Law, the title of the exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin, is ambiguous. The voice precedes the law; an individual human life takes precedence over abstract law; the voice stands trial; the voice is accused - or accuses, demanding justice. In Abu Hamdan's works, traces of governmental or corporate violence and mechanisms of surveillance and propaganda reveal themselves in the scope of auditory perception. The artist describes himself as a "private ear."

Lawrence Abu Hamdan is the winner of the Baloise Art Prize 2018. As part of this annual prize awarded in cooperation with two international art museums, the Baloise Group purchased his work This whole time there were no landmines (2017) for the Nationalgalerie and facilitated the exhibition and publication. The exhibition centers on this video and audio installation, a haunting exploration of physical and emotional boundaries.

The footage for This whole time there were no landmines consists of mobile phone recordings taken in 2011 at the Golan Heights, a rocky plateau region in the Middle East that had been the subject of various conflicts in the past. Israel annexed most of the Golan during the Six-Day War in 1967. The particular acoustics of one part of the Golan Heights region has led to its being dubbed the "shouting valley." The acoustic phenomenon of wandering and intensifying voices in this topography enables communication (with megaphones) across the border. Abu Hamdan's visual and audio footage dates from May 15, 2011. May 15 is an important anniversary for both sides-for Israel, which on May 14, 1948 was founded after the failure of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and recognized by the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations on May 15; and for Palestinians who use that day called "Nakba" (disaster or catastrophe) to commemorate and protest their forced evacuation following the founding of the state and the First Arab-Israeli War (1947-49). Already towards the end of the war, the Palestinian side claimed a right to return to their former properties, a key issue in the Mideast conflict since then.

A group of protesters crossed the border for the first time on May 15, 2011 in the wake of the Arab Spring and entered Druze-populated territory, an action that led to the shooting of four protesters by the Israel Defense Forces. In the center of the exhibition, This whole time there were no landmines shows recordings made with mobile phone cameras across eight square screens on opposite walls. These eyewitness accounts are set against a disturbing backdrop of shouts, shreds of conversation, and technical signals.

Disputed Utterance. 2019 (Detail)
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
Disputed Utterance. 2019 (Detail)
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
Disputed Utterance. 2019 (Detail)
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
Disputed Utterance. 2019 (Detail)
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
This whole time there were no landmines. 2017
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
This whole time there were no landmines. 2017
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
Conflicted Phonemes. 2012
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
Conflicted Phonemes. 2012 (Detail)
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
Conflicted Phonemes. 2012 (Detail)
© Foto: Haupt & Binder
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Several of Abu Hamdan's works take audio analysis technologies as their basis. Disputed Utterance (2019) uses palatography, a technique that prints specific shapes onto the roof of one's mouth by putting a mixture of charcoal and olive oil on a tongue and pronouncing a word. This is used by linguists, language preservationists and speech therapists. Abu Hamdan uses this method for creating the "mouth dioramas," consisting of several layers of laser-cut C-prints on cardboard. These palatographic works document seven cases of "disputed utterances," when court trials essentially revolve around how defendants pronounce certain words - and the legal implications of what they said.

In a number of other projects, Abu Hamdan scrutinizes the quality and validity of language analyses used to determine the origin of refugees. These supposedly objective language analysis methods have been in development since the 1990s and have been increasingly applied in Europe since 2001. Conflicted Phonemes (2012) installed in the last room of the exhibition-attempts to bring the widespread use of this method into the public eye.

From press information.
© Video and photos: Binder & Haupt, universes.art

Lawrence Abu Hamdan:
The Voice Before the Law

26 October 2019 - 9 February 2020

Curator: Ina Dinter

Hamburger Bahnhof

Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin

Invalidenstr. 50-51
10557 Berlin
Germany

Lawrence Abu Hamdan
* 1985 Amman, Jordan.
He has been featured at key biennials in recent years, including the Venice Biennial 2019, Sharjah Biennial 2019 and 2017, the Gwangju Biennale 2016. In 2019 he was one of the four awardees of the prestigious Turner Prize. He also won the 2019 Edvard Munch Art Award of the Munchmuseet, and the 2022 Future Fields Commission in Time-Based Media of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo.


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