Lawrence Abu Hamdan
A man is slowly and rhythmically playing the drums in a sound studio. Another man walks by and crosses over to a second studio, then stops in a third. Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s video is filmed with a steady camera outside the studios allowing the viewer to peek through their glass walls. The second man, the artist, starts the tale of a series of stories about how walls are not necessarily blocking devices but permeable. In a recent court case in the US, a military thermal camera provides evidence invisible from the exterior—that the suspect is growing weed inside the house, using lamps generating a lot of heat. In another one, muons—elementary penetrating particles similar to electrons—are described as they allow “seeing” through the walls of the pyramids and shipping containers alike. Today, while there are sixty three dividing walls between countries, it is “all wall and no wall at all”, as the artist states in Walled/Unwalled.
That sound waves can travel across borders is well-known. During the cold war, Radio Free Europe showed that the iron curtain was not soundproof. In the Soviet bloc, in the 1950s, the most advanced acoustic architecture for radiophonic propaganda was developed in East Berlin, the Funkhaus Berlin, which is where the video is recorded. At the same time, the GDR invented a new kind of prison architecture where the walls were “weaponized” against the inmates through sound, exporting the model not only to the Eastern bloc, but to Egypt, Angola, and Syria, among other countries. One of the stories in Walled/Unwalled is from one such “Mercedes-Benz of prisons” in Saidnaya, outside Damaskus—a site for the Assad regime’s horrific torture and mass executions. With a background in DIY music, Abu Hamdan has carried out one of his forensic audio investigations there, exploring how sound and politics intersect.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan (b. 1985, Amman) currently lives in Beirut. He was recently awarded the 2018 Abraaj Group Art Prize and was commissioned to make the work Walled Unwalled (2018). Abu Hamdan’s Rubber Coated Steel (2016), was awarded the Frieze Tate Fund Acquisition at the Frieze Art Fair 2017 as well as Tiger Award for Short Films at IFFR 2017. At Portikus Frankfurt in 2016, his exhibition Earshot was the recipient of the Nam June Paik Award. Selected solo exhibitions include Hammer Projects: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2018); Contra-Diction: Speech Against Itself (performance), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2018); Earshot, Portikus, Frankfurt (2016); تقيه (taqiyya), Kunsthalle Sankt Gallen (2015); Tape Echo, Beirut in Cairo and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2013); The Freedom Of Speech Itself, The Showroom, London; and The Whole Truth, Casco, Utrecht (2012). Additionally, his works have been exhibited and performed in documenta 14, Athens Conservatoire, Sharjah Biennial 13, and Contour Biennale 8, Kunstcentrum NONA, Mechelen, in 2017; Gwangju Biennial, 9th Liverpool Biennial, and Nam June Paik award exhibition, Museum Folkwang Essen in 2016; Shanghai Biennial in 2014; The Whitechapel Gallery, London, MACBA Barcelona, Tate Modern London, M HKA Antwerp, The Beirut Art Center and The Taipei Biennial in 2012. Abu Hamdan’s writing can be found in Texte zur Kunst (2017), Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Sternberg Press, 2014), Manifesta Journal and Cabinet Magazine.