Lawrence Abu Hamdan review

Art, Contemporary art
4 out of 5 stars
Lawrence Abu Hamdan review
Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate.

There’s crap everywhere in this show. There’s a bin full of plastic tubing and a cricket bat, a stepladder, metal shelves covered with popcorn, teacups and trainers, watermelons on the floor, big bottles of fizzy drink, a paddling pool. Just a bunch of junk hastily and messily laid out. Feeling dismissive is a legit reaction – until it dawns on you what this all means. Then your sneer of indifference disappears in a fog
of shock.

Because spread out before you are the physical symbols of the sounds of violence. Lawrence Abu Hamdan collects ‘earwitness’ testimony, memories of the sounds of terrible acts. Rolling text on the wall details how prisoners heard the stomps of guards on metal stairs at the brutal Saydnaya military prison in Syria, or the thump of being beaten with a Pepsi bottle.

Suddenly these mundane objects become horrifyingly sinister – everything here represents some kind of trauma. The car door is a witness testifying to the sound of a corpse dumped in the boot of a police car, the popcorn is how someone describes the sound of a collapsing building.

But everything here is mute, and that makes your body ache with tension: all these audio devices are frozen in silence, a terrifying game of musical chairs that has stopped for ever. It forces the violence into your head. You start to imagine how a decapitation sounds like a falling green coconut, how a corpse would sound when tumbling around in the boot of a car. All these innocent objects signify appalling acts which the artist forces you to play out sonically in your head.

Sound becomes real in a room in the middle of the gallery, filled only with benches and two speakers. Witnesses talk about the sound of torture and execution at Saydnaya: test tones blurt out at you, silence grabs you. Noise, voices, sound and silence all constantly interplaying. It’s brutally overwhelming; only the sound of the air vent ruins the sensory immersion.

Abu Hamdan’s show has a point and a conscience, digging deep into the politics of sound. It messes with you, shakes you and makes you listen. But, in the end, it’s up to you whether you actually hear what’s being said.


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