Since 2010, The Showroom has been working with the artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan on the ongoing research project Aural Contract, commissioned as part of the gallery’s participatory programme Communal Knowledge. Constituted by a series of events, publications, performances, exhibitions, interviews, compositions and workshops, Aural Contract examines the politics of listening through a focus on the role of the voice in law. Throughout the project Abu Hamdan has built up a sound archive, containing audio extracts of his works together with specific moments of juridical listening and speaking gathered from a wide range of sources such as the trials of Saddam Hussein and Judas Priest, UK police evidence tapes, films such as Decoder and readings from texts including Italo Calvino’s A King Listens.
Here The Showroom presents the most recent stages of the project as an installation featuring a new commission The Freedom of Speech Itself, excerpts from Abu Hamdan's audio archive, and a workshop led by the artist on Harold Pinter's play Mountain Language. To accompany the exhibition is a series of events titled The Right to Silence that focus on the legal status of the voice, programmed in collaboration with Electra.
The Freedom of Speech Itself is an audio documentary looking at the history and contemporary application of forensic speech analysis and voice-prints, focusing on the UK’s controversial use of voice analysis to determine the origins and authenticity of asylum seekers’ accents. Testimonies from lawyers, phonetic experts, asylum seekers and Home Office officials reveal the geo-politics of accents and the practice of listening that led to shocking stories of wrongful deportations. When combined with the experimental audio composition these interviews are designed to fully immerse the listener in the heart of a discussion that profoundly problematises the nature of listening, forensics, free speech, migration, borders and the law.
Image: Phonetic diagrams of accents. © Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Courtesy the artist.
The Freedom of Speech Itself is produced by Somethin’ Else and commissioned by The Showroom and Forensic Architecture at the Department of Visual Cultures Goldsmiths, University of London.
The project is part of Communal Knowledge supported by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and John Lyon's Charity. It is also part of Survival Kit: Art linking society, knowledge and activism, supported by the Culture 2007–2013 programme of the European Union.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan is a “Private Ear”. His interest with sound and its intersection with politics originate from his background as a touring musician and facilitator of DIY music. The artists audio investigations has been used as evidence at the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and as advocacy for organisations such as Amnesty International and Defence for Children International together with fellow researchers from Forensic Architecture.
Abu Hamdan completed his PhD in 2017 from Goldmsiths College University of London and is currently a fellow at the Gray Centre for Arts and Inquiry at the University of Chicago Abu Hamdan has exhibited his work at the 58th Venice Biennale, the 11th Gwanju Biennale and the 13th and 14th Sharjah Biennial, Witte De With, Rotterdam, Tate Modern Tanks, Chisenhale Gallery, Hammer Museum L.A, Portikus Frankfurt, The Showroom, London and Casco, Utrecht. His works are part of collections at MoMA, Guggenheim, Van AbbeMuseum, Centre Pompidou and Tate Modern. Abu Hamdan’s work has been awarded the 2019 Edvard Munch Art Award, the 2016 Nam June Paik Award for new media and in 2017 his film Rubber Coated Steel won the Tiger short film award at the Rotterdam International Film festival. For the 2019 Turner Prize Abu Hamdan, together with nominated artists Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani, formed a temporary collective in order to be jointly granted the award.