Lawrence Abu Hamdan (PhD) is an artist and “private ear” whose projects have taken the form of audiovisual installations, performances, graphic works, photography, Islamic sermons, cassette tape compositions, potato chip packets, essays and lectures. Abu Hamdan’s interest with sound and its intersection with politics originates from his background in DIY music. In 2013, Abu Hamdan’s audio documentary, The Freedom of Speech Itself, was submitted as evidence at the UK Asylum Tribunal, where the artist himself was called to testify as an expert witness. He continues to make sonic analyses for legal investigations and to engage in advocacy for organizations such as Amnesty International and Defence for Children International. The artist’s forensic audio investigations are conducted as part of his research for Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also a PhD candidate.
His solo exhibitions include Earshot at Portikus, Frankfurt (2016); تقيه (taqiyya) at Kunsthalle St Gallen (2015); Tape Echo (2013) at Beirut in Cairo and Van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven; The Freedom Of Speech Itself (2012) at Showroom, London; and The Whole Truth (2012) at Casco, Utrecht. Additionally, his works have been exhibited and performed at venues such as The Shanghai Biennial (2014), The Whitechapel Gallery London, MACBA Barcelona, Tate Modern London, M HKA Antwerp, the Beirut Art Center and The Taipei Biennial (2012). Abu Hamdan’s writing can be found in Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Sternberg Press, 2014), Manifesta Journal and Cabinet Magazine. His works are part of collections at MoMA New York, Van AbbeMuseum Eindhoven and the Arts Council, England.
Sound Remains: The Acoustic Archaeology of Black Sites.
The prison of Saydanaya, located 20km north of Damascus, is inaccessible to independent observers and monitors. My project, undertaken as part of Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International collaboration on a reconstruction of the prison, is premised on the fact that memory of those who survive it is the only resource available from which to learn of and document the violations still taking place there. However, the capacity of detainees to see anything in Saydnaya was highly restricted as mostly they were kept in darkness, blindfolded or made to cover their eyes. As a result, the prisoners developed an acute sensitivity to sound. Through dedicated and new techniques of ear-witness interviews with the survivors of Saydnaya, the witnesses reconstructed the architecture and events of the prison they experienced through sound. By reconstructing the sounds of doors, locks, beatings and footsteps they were able to estimate the size of various spaces and the human rights violations that are being perpetrated there. Sound was employed as a mnemonic and discursive device to unlock the witnesses’ acoustic memories and to find form to the sounds that continually haunt them. For sound is not only the method for their survival of Saydnaya, but also a weapon of their torture: kept in brutally enforced conditions of silence where every act of torture resonates loudly across the building, heard by all the detainees at once. This project is not limited to a forensic acoustic investigation but rather insists as much on the psychoacoustic or more hallucinatory perceptions of sound that speak another kind of truth relating to the experience of starvation, thirst and the constant threat of violence. Thus the reconstructed acoustic environment of the different spaces, based on each witness’s recollections and reproductions of the sounds they heard, results in an archive of spatial and acoustic recollections that testify to the prison of Saydnaya and its horror but also to the role of listening at its limits, and the sound of our memories.