Portikus presents “Earshot”, Lawrence Abu Hamdan‘s first solo exhibition in Germany. In his art and research, Abu Hamdan, who lives in Beirut, explores the perception of language and sound and the politics of listening. His projects have taken the form of audiovisual installations, performances, graphic works, photography, Islamic sermons, cassette tape compositions, potato chip packets, essays, and lectures. Discourses of national identity, human rights, and the administration of justice are recurrent themes in his art, and the techniques of his audio-aesthetic practice have become the basis through which he has become known as a “private ear,” conducting forensic audio analysis for several legal investigations.
In May 2014, Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank (Palestine) shot and killed two teenagers, Nadeem Nawara and Mohamad Abu Daher. The human rights organization Defence for Children International contacted Forensic Architecture, a Goldsmiths College-based agency that undertakes advanced architectural and media research. They worked with Abu Hamdan to investigate the incident. The case hinged upon an audio-ballistic analysis of the recorded gunshots to determine whether the soldiers had used rubber bullets, as they asserted, or broken the law by firing live ammunition at the two unarmed teenagers.
A detailed acoustic analysis, for which Abu Hamdan used special techniques designed to visualize the sound frequencies, established that they had fired live rounds, and moreover had tried to disguise these fatal shots to make them sound as if they were rubber bullets. These visualizations later became the crucial piece of evidence that was picked up by the news channel CNN and other international news agencies, forcing Israel to renounce its original denial. The investigation was also presented before the US Congress as an example of Israel’s contravention of the American-Israeli arms agreement.
A little over a year after Abu Hamdan completed his report, he returns to the case of Abu Daher and Nawara in his exhibition Earshot. Expanding on the original body of evidence, he has created an installation encompassing sound, photographic prints, and a video to reflect more broadly on the aesthetics of evidence and the politics of sound and silence. The video, Rubber Coated Steel, is the main part of the new installation commissioned by Portikus and acts as a tribunal for these serial killing sounds. The video tribunal does not preside over the voices of the victims but rather seeks to amplify their silence, fundamentally questioning the ways in which rights are being heard today.