Does Sound Deceive? The Forensic Art of Lawrence Abu Hamdan – 声音欺骗吗?Lawrence Abu Hamdan的法医艺术

Feature - 27 May 2018

Does Sound Deceive? The Forensic Art of Lawrence Abu Hamdan

The artist-investigator tunes his work to the undocumented, the surveilled, immigrants and prisoners; those fleeing the talons of the state

By Ben Mauk

The barn owl tracks its prey acoustically and can hunt in total darkness. It’s one of those facts to which we ascribe poetic as well as mythic permanence: not only Lilith and Athena but Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘large white owl that with eye is blind’. Yet, we arrived at this knowledge – by which I mean this scientific knowledge – only recently. In the 1970s, infrared photographs captured a barn owl flying through the pitch of a lightless research room and at the threshold of contact with a mouse. The resulting multiple exposures were revealing; the owl spreads its talons, lowers its heart-shaped head and closes its eyes, its body eerily imbricated with past and future selves like a host of white angels descending. The pictures are the work of neuroscientist Masakazu Konishi, whose experiments in darkened anechoic chambers established our knowledge of a fact long assumed: the owl does not need to see the mouse it hunts. ‘The rustling noises of the prey contain all the information needed for the owl to locate it in space,’1 he wrote.

Konishi also tested the barn owl’s hearing against that of his undergraduate students, finding that, above 12 kilohertz, the human ear is more sensitive than the most sensitive bird’s. Yet, no pair of ears can define a point in three dimensions. In this and many other respects, noise is demandingly vague. The owl makes its educated guess. we do the same, locating the origins of sounds by attending to the inequality between the sound waves each ear perceives. But there is guesswork. Any given inequality corresponds to not one but a family of points in space. We rely on an array of fallible assumptions, beliefs and prejudices – a kind of acoustic shorthand – to resolve this constellation of possible objects or speakers into a single, well-ordered reality.


Does Sound Deceive? The Forensic Art of Lawrence Abu Hamdan - 声音欺骗吗?Lawrence Abu Hamdan的法医艺术

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Earshot, 2016, installation view, Portikus, Frankfurt am Main. Courtesy: the artist and Portikus, Frankfurt am Main; photograph: Helena Schlichting

Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist-investigator of our acoustic shorthand. His video and audio installations trace a path from hearing’s biological origins to the legal and technological appendages it has lately acquired: a century of aural mutations of which the owl dares not to dream. As a forensic audio analyst, who sometimes collaborates with the human-rights research agency Forensic Architecture, Abu Hamdan has become a Konishi for the nation-state, a soothsayer whose work augurs the evolution of a new kind of hearing. He calls it ‘forensic listening’ and its subjects are manifold. A Palestinian in the UK pronounces the arabic word for ‘tomato’ as benadoora instead of bendoora; as a result, his application for asylum is rejected. A sheikh in Cairo risks official censure broadcasting a sermon on noise pollution from his mosque’s loudspeaker. A political detainee maps the prison beyond his cell by the muffled sounds of interrogators beating unseen compatriots with a length of pipe. If we have learned anything from the age of for-profit surveillance and deep-state data, it is that, no matter who we are, someone out there is listening. But who exactly is listening and what is being listened for depends on our political selves. Abu Hamdan tunes his work to undocumented persons, surveilled citizens, immigrants and prisoners – to those scrambling beneath the talons of the state.

Two early projects, The Freedom of Speech Itself and Conflicted Phonemes (both 2012), used documentary video, infographics and sculpture to interrogate the accent-analysis techniques employed by private government contractors to vet the authenticity of asylum seekers’ origin stories. These ‘refugee detectives’ began to appear in northern Europe in the early 2000s, ordering asylum seekers to speak into their recording machine, then hiring other immigrants to detect falsehoods inside their phonemes. The system is purest folly. as any linguist will tell you, accents are not stable markers of origin or identity. nor are consultants always familiar with the accents they have been hired to interpret. Conflicted Phonemes consists of a series of colourful infographics describing this capricious legal reckoning, using the cases of 12 Somali asylum seekers whose applications in the Netherlands were rejected because they failed to utter certain shibboleths. For the sound installation iteration of The Freedom of Speech Itself – shown at Kunsthal Extra City, Antwerp, in 2012 and HKW, Berlin, in 2014 – the artist used topographical foam sculptures: sound-absorbing mufflers that shaped the sonic atmosphere of the gallery. They are voices riven from language, the purest expression of the new politics of listening.

Elsewhere, Abu Hamdan homes in on ambient rustlings we are not meant to hear. The Hummingbird Clock (2016), a work combining sculpture and a website, takes as its medium the background hum of the UK’s electrical grid, which is omnipresent and imperceptible. For more than a decade, London’s Metropolitan Police has relied on the micro-variations in this hum to verify whether recorded conversations submitted as evidence in criminal investigations have been edited and to pinpoint the exact time of their occurence, since every ten-second section of any recording made in the UK contains a buzzing fingerprint. Abu Hamdan democratizes this little-known method of surveillance by making it publicly available online, inviting anyone to submit videos for time-stamping. The website augments the sculptural component of the piece, which was commissioned for the 2016 Liverpool Biennial: a cluster of outdoor binoculars pointed at the clock on the Town Hall, across from the Queen Elizabeth II law courts.


Does Sound Deceive? The Forensic Art of Lawrence Abu Hamdan - 声音欺骗吗?Lawrence Abu Hamdan的法医艺术

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Saydnaya (Ray Traces), 2017, installation view, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, 2018. Courtesy: © the artist and Maureen Paley, London

Abu Hamdan’s activities take freely from the traditions of investigative journalism, human-rights campaigns and conceptual art. Yet, unlike the investigative work for which his colleagues at Forensic architecture are known, he is always moving towards an encounter that transcends the legal and extralegal injustices that form his raw material. His work begins in activism but ends elsewhere. In 2016, an Amnesty International team, which included Abu Hamdan, began interviewing prisoners who had been released from Saydnaya – a Syrian military prison north of Damascus. He has since produced a series of ambitious videos, installations, performances and texts based on the concept of ‘acoustic leakage’ at the prison, which remains an unknown entity to international observers. The prisoners at Saydnaya are blindfolded except when confined to their cells but have managed to reconstruct the prison’s layout and its methods of subjugation through aural remembrance. ‘We know the cell tile by tile, so well that we can walk in it even in the dark,’ one earwitness, Salam Othman, told his interviewers. Saydnaya (The Missing 19dB), an audio installation that depicts the increasing brutality and quietude that followed the start of the 2011 Syrian revolution, combines excerpts of interviews with flat tones representing sonic environments ranging from a freight train to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The process mimics the ‘echo profiling’ witnesses used to reconstruct their imprisonment, inviting listeners to enter an imaginative space of limited knowledge. (The newest Saydnaya project will premiere at Chisenhale Gallery, London, in September.)

Projects like The Hummingbird Clock and Saydnaya  (The Missing 19dB), which was first shown at the Sharjah Biennial in 2017, suggest that hearing is both less and more than knowing. The ear’s limitations create opportunities for dissimulation and control among those who regulate borders or mete out punishments. at the same time, the ear is often permitted to witness what the eye, whose power is recognized, cannot. Sounds are surplus. And in surplus there is ambiguity, the prerequisite of art.

In English, our language of comprehension suggests it may be easier to fool the uncritical eye than the ambiguous ear. Consider ‘seeing things’, a phrase that means its opposite: seeing what isn’t there. But ‘hearing things’ suggests an acute and clandestine awareness, shared by spies, slaves and prisoners, who often hear things that contradict the reality in view. It is a subcurrent of knowledge, like the real – not rubber, as the Israeli army claimed – bullets that killed two unarmed Palestinian teenagers in 2014 during protests in the west bank: a fact first identified by Abu Hamdan using forensic audio analysis in a report for Defence for Children International. He has imagined this report as a fictional courtroom testimony in the film Rubber Coated Steel (2016), which takes place inside a shooting gallery where no shots are fired and no voices heard. In his 2016 exhibition ‘Earshot’ at Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, the film played alongside hanging photographic prints depicting the spectographs of gunshots: silent testimonies to violence that visitors were made to navigate.


Does Sound Deceive? The Forensic Art of Lawrence Abu Hamdan - 声音欺骗吗?Lawrence Abu Hamdan的法医艺术

Amir Shakib Arslan Mosque, Moukhtara, Lebanon, 2016, interior view. Architecture and design: LE.FT architects (Macramé el Kadi and Ziad Jamaleddine)
in collaboration with Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Iwan Baan

Abu Hamdan’s latest project is Walled Unwalled (2018), a film installation that will be on view at the Tanks, Tate Modern, London, this October. Presented as a projection onto (and through) a glass wall, the film shows Abu Hamdan behind the windows of an infamous cold war-era recording studio in former East berlin. He speaks to the viewer about the permeability of walls, citing in the process the US Supreme court thermal imaging case Kyllo v. United States (2001), the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius and the survivors of Saydnaya prison. Although Abu Hamdan can seem most confident when working in an essayistic mode, recent film installations like Rubber-Coated Steel and Walled Unwalled show his growing mastery at synthesizing research and creation. The accumulation of walls, holes and speech in Walled Unwalled is polyphonic, even if Abu Hamdan’s voice, set to increasingly ominous percussion, is the main one we hear.

There is a village of lost voices an hour south of Berlin,  where Abu Hamdan lived recently as a guest of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Wünsdorf was once home to the first mosque ever erected in Germany, part of a World War I prison complex known as the Half-Moon Camp that housed thousands of colonial prisoners from Comoros, India, Madagascar, Martinique, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia and a dozen other lands. The goal of the camp was part strategic, part scientific. military commanders hoped to convince prisoners to foment revolution at home. Academics planned to use the prison’s unprecedentedly diverse population to map the speech, songs and physiognomies of every living culture.


Does Sound Deceive? The Forensic Art of Lawrence Abu Hamdan - 声音欺骗吗?Lawrence Abu Hamdan的法医艺术

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Walled Unwalled, 2018, installation view, Abraaj Group Art Prize, Art Dubai, 2018. Courtesy: the artist, Art Dubai and Maureen Paley, London; photograph: Photo Solutions

Wilhelm Doegen – an ethnologist born in the same year that Thomas Edison invented the phonograph – made recordings at Half-Moon Camp. He may have been the world’s first visionary in the use of state power to extract information from the recorded human voice. With the Kaiser’s approval, he founded the Royal Prussian Phonographic Commission and spent the duration of the war instructing prisoners to speak at length into his machine, an Odeon gramophone – in whose dark ingress I would locate the origin of all of Abu Hamdan’s work. He recorded over 1,000 wax cylinders and 1,600 shellac discs of wartime biography, lament and song. After the Half-Moon Camp closed, the Nazis took its various ethnographic projects and applied them to their own ideological ends.

Today, Wünsdorf is an oddly shaped town surrounded by military relics from the last century: former barracks, bomb shelters and conspicuously empty fields of gravel and young weeds. During World War II, it was home to the command centres for two competing military intelligence organizations whose complexes were disguised as rural wattle-and-daub townships. Then it was a Soviet military base. Nothing at all remains of the Half-Moon Camp, not even the mosque, and the century-old recordings are sitting in the heavy metal cabinets of various German research institutions. I have heard some of them. Who owns those voices now? They are scattered and out of sight, like the magpies and house sparrows living in the woods nearby. Like the starling and the hooded crow. Like the owl, which, like Minerva’s, flies at dusk.

1 Masakazu Konishi, ‘How the Owl Tracks Its Prey’, in American Scientist, Vol. 61/4, July–august 1973, pp. 414–24

Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist based in Beirut, Lebanon. Recent solo shows include: Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, USA (2018); Maureen Paley, London, UK (2017); and Portikus, Frankfurt, Germany (2016). Last year, his works were shown at the Sharjah Biennial, UAE, and the 8th Contour Biennale, Mechelen, Belgium. He is a recipient of the 2016 Nam June Paik Award and the 2018 Abraaj Group Art Prize. In September, he will have solo exhibitions at the Tanks, Tate Modern, and Chisenhale Gallery, both London, UK.

This article appears in the print edition of frieze, June/July/August 2018, issue 196, with the title 'Hearing Things'.

Main image: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, The Recovered Manifesto of Wissam [Inaudible] (detail), 2017, installation view, mor charpentier, Paris, 2018. Courtesy: the artist and mor charpentier, Paris

Ben Mauk

Ben Mauk is a writer based in Berlin, Germany. He is director of the Berlin Writers’ Workshop. 

Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Maureen Paley
mor charpentier
Ben Mauk
Altered States

Issue 196

First published in Issue 196

June - August 2018

2018年5月27日听起来有点欺骗?艺术家调查者Lawrence Abu Hamdan的法医艺术将他的作品改编成无证件的、被监视的、移民和俘虏;那些逃离谷仓猫头鹰Ben Mauk的国家鹰爪追踪其猎物。可以在黑暗中狩猎。这是我们赋予诗意和神话永恒的事实之一:不仅是莉莉丝和雅典娜,而且是伊丽莎白·巴雷特·勃朗宁的“大白猫,眼睛瞎了”。然而,我们得到了这一知识——我指的只是最近的科学知识。20世纪70年代,红外照片捕捉到一个谷仓猫头鹰鹰通过一个无光的研究室的间距,在与鼠标接触的门槛。由此产生的多重曝光是显露出来的;猫头鹰张开爪子,降低它的心形头部并闭上眼睛,它的身体与过去和未来的自己一样,像一大群白色的天使下垂。这些图片是神经科学家Masakazu Konishi的作品,他在黑暗的消声室中的实验建立了我们对一个事实的长期认识:猫头鹰不需要看到它捕食的老鼠。“猎物的沙沙声包含猫头鹰在太空中所需的所有信息,”他写道。Konishi还测试了谷仓猫头鹰对他的大学生的听力,发现,在12千赫以上,人的耳朵比最敏感的鸟更敏感。然而,没有一双耳朵能在三个维度上定义一个点。在这个和许多其他方面,噪音是模糊的。猫头鹰做了有根据的猜测。我们也这样做,通过倾听每个耳朵感知到的声波之间的不平等来定位声音的起源。但也有猜测。任何给定的不等式对应于不是一个而是一个空间中的一个点。我们依靠一系列错误的假设、信念和偏见——一种声学速记——来解决这个可能的对象或说话者的星座,成为一个单一有序的现实。WebLaLeuncE-AU-HAMDANG02YCMYK.JPG WPA6021602IMG Lawrence Abu Hamdan,听力,2016,安装视图,Portikus,法兰克福。礼貌:艺术家和波提库斯,法兰克福;照片:海伦娜SkultI汀劳伦斯阿布哈姆丹是我们的声学速记的艺术家调查员。他的视频和音频装置追踪了从听觉的生物学起源到它最近获得的法律和技术附件的路径:一个猫头鹰不敢梦想的听觉突变的世纪。作为一名法医音频分析员,他有时与人权研究机构的法医建筑学合作,Abu Hamdan已经成为一个国家的Konishi,一个预言家,他的工作预示着一种新的听力的演变。他称之为“司法侦听”,它的主题是多方面的。英国的一位巴勒斯坦人把“西红柿”这个词称为“贝拿多拉”,而不是“本多拉”,因此,他申请庇护遭到拒绝。开罗的一位酋长冒着官方谴责,广播清真寺扬声器上的噪音污染说教。一名政治拘留者用审讯者用一条长管子殴打看不见的同胞的闷闷不乐的声音,将监狱映射到他的牢房之外。如果我们从营利性监视和深度国家数据的时代学到了什么,那就是,不管我们是谁,外面的人都在倾听。但是究竟是谁在倾听,什么在听,这取决于我们的政治自我。Abu Hamdan把他的作品改编成无证件的人、被监视的公民、移民和俘虏——那些在国家爪子下面挣扎的人。两个早期的项目,言论自由和冲突的Phonemes(2012者)都使用纪录片、信息图表和雕塑来询问私人政府承包商使用的口音分析技术来审查寻求庇护者起源故事的真实性。这些“难民侦探”在20世纪初开始出现在北欧,命令寻求庇护者说出他们的录音机,然后雇佣其他移民来侦测他们的音位中的谎言。这个制度是最愚蠢的。任何语言学家都会告诉你,口音并不是稳定的起源或身份标记。咨询师也不熟悉他们被解释的口音。冲突的音素由一系列描述这一反复无常的法律推断的丰富多彩的信息图表组成,使用12名索马里寻求庇护者的案例,他们在荷兰的申请遭到拒绝,因为他们未能说出某些预言。对于言论自由的声音安装迭代——在2012的安特卫普KunStalEuthCube,在2014和柏林的KHW,展示了艺术家使用的地形泡沫雕塑:吸音消声器,它塑造了画廊的音色氛围。他们是从语言中分离出来的声音,是新的倾听政治的最纯粹的表达。在其他地方,Abu Hamdan的家里有我们不想听到的环境沙沙声。蜂鸟时钟(2016)是一种结合雕塑和网站的作品,它以英国电网的背景嗡嗡声为媒介,无所不在,难以察觉。十多年来,伦敦的大都会警察依靠这一嗡嗡声中的细微变化来验证是否已经记录了作为犯罪调查证据的记录对话,并确定了发生的确切时间,因为每隔十秒就有一次。在英国录制的是一个嗡嗡作响的指纹。Abu Hamdan通过让公众在网上公开这一鲜为人知的监视方法来民主化,邀请任何人提交视频进行时间戳。该网站扩充了这件作品的雕塑成分,这是2016届利物浦双年展的委托:一组户外望远镜瞄准了伊丽莎白女王二世法院对面的市政厅的钟。Web1414242.JPG Does Sound Deceive? The Forensic Art of Lawrence Abu Hamdan - 声音欺骗吗?Lawrence Abu Hamdan的法医艺术 Lawrence Abu Hamdan,赛义达亚(射线痕迹),2017,安装视图,洛杉矶哈默博物馆,洛杉矶,2018。礼貌:“艺术家”和“Maureen Paley”,伦敦阿布哈丹的活动自由地从调查新闻、人权运动和概念艺术的传统中解放出来。然而,与他在法医建筑学中的同事们所知的调查工作不同,他总是朝着一个超越法律和外部不公正的遭遇而形成自己的原材料。他的工作始于激进主义,但在别处结束。在2016,一个大赦国际小组,其中包括Abu Hamdan,开始采访从大马士革北部叙利亚军事监狱赛义达亚获释的囚犯。此后,他根据监狱“声泄漏”的概念,制作了一系列雄心勃勃的视频、装置、表演和文本,这对国际观察员来说仍然是未知的实体。除了被囚禁在牢房里,萨达纳的囚犯们被蒙上了眼睛,但他们设法重建了监狱的布局和通过听觉记忆征服的方法。一位目击者Salam Othman告诉采访者,“我们知道瓷砖是瓦片,所以我们甚至可以在黑暗中行走。”Saydnaya(失踪的19dB)是一个音频装置,它描述了2011叙利亚革命开始后日益增加的野蛮和平静,结合了访谈的摘录,它代表了从货运列车到切尔诺贝利禁区的音速环境。这个过程模仿了“回声轮廓”的见证人用来重建他们的监禁,邀请听众进入一个富有想象力的有限知识空间。(最新的SayDNayProject将于九月在伦敦的CiHihanle画廊首演。)如蜂鸟时钟和SayDNayi(失踪19dB)的项目,这在2017沙迦双年展中首次显示,表明听力比知晓少而且多。耳朵的局限性为那些管制边界或惩罚的人创造了伪装和控制的机会。同时,耳朵经常被允许见证眼睛的力量被识别,不能。声音是多余的。在盈余中,存在着模糊性,这是艺术的前提。在英语中,我们的理解语言表明,愚弄不加批判的眼睛比模糊的耳朵更容易。考虑“看事物”,这句话的意思是相反的:看什么是不存在的。但是,“倾听事物”暗示了一种敏锐的秘密意识,被间谍、奴隶和囚犯分享,他们经常听到一些与现实矛盾的东西。这是一股知识流,就像以色列军队声称的真实的——不是橡皮——在约旦河西岸抗议期间,2014人杀死了两名手无寸铁的巴勒斯坦青少年:这是一个事实,Abu Hamdan在一份针对儿童防御的报告中首次使用法医音频分析确定了这一事实。埃尔曼他把这篇报道想象成电影胶皮钢(2016)中虚构的法庭证词,它发生在一个射击场里,没有射击,没有声音。在他在法兰克福波蒂库斯的2016次展览“耳鸣”中,这部电影与悬挂的照片相伴,描绘了枪声的图景:对游客进行的暴力行为的沉默证词。韦伯CARPET1OF4-CYPEK.JPG WPAP60260602IMG阿米尔Sakib阿斯兰清真寺,Moukhtara,黎巴嫩,2016,内部视图。建筑与设计:L.FT建筑师(McLaMeel Kaad和Ziad Jamaleddine)WPA60300 3BR与Lawrence Abu Hamdan合作。礼貌:艺术家,照片:伊万巴恩阿布哈姆丹的最新项目是无墙墙(2018),一个电影安装,将在坦克的看法,泰特现代,伦敦,今年十月。以投影表示


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