Natq: Guilt conviction from a moment of utterance

In fact, the most relevant form of evidence is sound-based, because sound leaks through life's all kinds of permeable walls and barriers.
by Christy-Belle Geha

31 August 2019 | 18:00

Source: by Annahar Staff

  • by Christy-Belle Geha
  • Source: Annahar Staff
  • Last update: 31 August 2019 | 18:00

File photo shows"EarWitness Inventory" installation. (photo courtesy of Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut)

BEIRUT: A moment of utterance, or Natq in Arabic, sometimes exacerbates into a…crime scene. Arbitrary verdicts based on uncertain earwitness testimonials are now unwillingly turning history. The acoustic-visual imagination revives memories of different sounds heard through the permeable walls of life.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, a "Private Ear", presents in his largest presentation-to date "Natq", eight installations (2012-2019) that explore different forms of utterances, in other words, different forms of speaking.

"I'm trying to expand the horizons of what we could consider as legitimate forms of speech, but also explore where those limits are, and what constitutes speech" he said on August 29, during the reception of his solo show at the Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut.

Based in Beirut, the artist audio-investigates violence, corruption, rural lawlessness, unspeakable truths through recordings of object sounds from his own sound effects library in the speech-to-text algorithm "After SFX", because he feels that "this sound effects library is specific to retrieving, restoring and collecting the acoustic memories of witnesses."

The 95 objects which sounds figure in the audiovisual installation "After SFX" , are later found in the last installation from the show, "Earwitness Inventory", where random life objects shock by their strange correlation with cinematic sound design that usually tends to trick the audience by associating an unnatural irrelevant "artificial" sound to another action, to make it seem like it is its own sound.

This strange illusory nature of sound is further explained by Abu Hamdan: "Objects like a cricket bat or a gun that can't be visually confused, enhance the difficulty of the acoustic imagination, because our conception of sound mainly comes from cinema." The artist's expertise in Earwitnessing comes from interviews he conducted and trial transcripts he collected especially from Sednaya.

In fact, the most relevant form of evidence is sound-based, because sound leaks through life's all kinds of permeable walls and barriers. A sound moving from one side to another of a 50cm thick plaster wall is illustrated on 2 Inkjets prints labeled "Pink Floyd". The wall permeability later shows to the attendants in a re-enactment videotaped monologue on a transparent wall, "Walled Unwalled", performed in the Funkhaus, East Berlin, of stories heard through walls.

"The real-life narratives told on this wall are about being isolated but also being exposed" he added.

Abu Hamdan uses palatography, a technique used by linguists that enables them to decrypt the patterns created after the sound pronunciation by filling the subject's mouth with charcoal, in the "Disputed Utterance" installation made of 7 utterances on 14 laser-cut diorama. The sound investigator tells seven misinterpretation and misunderstanding stories in which "a trial is fully based on a sound evidence to decide whether one would be culpable or innocent." He adds: This pushes us to reflect on how tiny utterances can expand out to become crime scenes in a way, and how we think differently about the context of our speech and the kind of ears that are placed upon." 

He also leans on interviews with software experts in his audio documentary "The whole truth" to prove that the current application of voice analysis as a lie detector by Israeli, European and Russian governments and insurance companies, is arbitrary. For this installation, Swedish linguists reverse-engineered the lie detector, and they proved its nonsense. He elaborated on this: "The detector analysed the vowel "A" as a lie, "E" as a truth. It clearly doesn't have to do with the context of what you're saying. The work here presents simultaneously the audio interviews and their real-time analysis by the very same lie detecting technology."

Similar to "Disputed Utterance", a set of traces, specifically birthmarks, is presented in "For the otherwise unaccounted" wall text. According to psychiatrist Dr. Ian Stevenson, birthmarks are testimonials of previous claimed reincarnations and their death circumstances in their previous lives.

Abu Hamdan also tackles reincarnation in "Once Removed" film about Bassel Abi Chahine, 31-year-old historian who claims to be reincarnated from being a soldier, Yousef Fouad al Jawhary who died in 1984 in Aley, during the Lebanese civil war with the Progressive Socialist Party militia, and collected an inventory that connects him with his past life. "What fascinated me about Bassel wasn't the belief in reincarnation, but what it enables, the turn of history." said the artist.

Some of Lawrence Abu Hamdan's work has been used as advocacy for Amnesty International. He received in 2017 his PhD from Goldsmiths College London, and is now nominated for 2019's Turner prize, an annual prize awarded to a British visual artist.

The exhibition runs until January 4th 2020 at Sfeir-Semler Gallery Beirut.

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