For his largest presentation to-date, the artist proposes 8 installations that span the last 7 years, including videos, prints, found objects, sound pieces... Describing himself as a “Private Ear”, Abu Hamdan looks through his work into the political effect of listening.

Natq is a word that, in Arabic, can be used to refer to various speech-related acts. Its most basic understanding covers the physical action of speaking; but it can also mean speaking the truth. It can be used when passing a judgement or when speaking for someone and is used to describe the speech of reincarnated subjects.

The exhibition explores several cases which revolve around a moment of utterance, or Natq: it presents After SFX and Earwitness Inventory, which are both based on interviews Abu Hamdan’s carried out himself, as well as on material from legal cases from across the world. With these works, the artist proposes a library of sound effects that could retrieve memories of acoustic violence, and reveals a language of objects, that we do not yet speak.

Challenging our understanding of privacy, and of the actual limits of physical space, Walled Unwalled a film installation currently on show at the Venice Biennale, looks into the permeability of walls. Here the ability of voices to traverse material barriers is explored as a means to dissolve the limits placed on speech.

Fundamental to Abu Hamdan’s most recent works, is the understanding of Natq as the ability to speak or write a language without having learned it – or xenoglossy. Two works in the exhibition shed light on buried historical records and unresolved injustices: a video that premiered at the Sharjah Biennial 2019 and that studies reincarnation in a case linked to the Lebanese civil war; as well as prints derived from Dr. Ian Stevenson’s theory that relates birthmarks to death and rebirth.

Natq also proposes an installation that looks at new technologies of voice analysis that are unjustly used for lie detection. The works in this show explore what testimony is, but also, through the space of art, attempt to propose what it could be. As such, Natq explores and expands the horizons of currently accepted forms of speech in today’s legal and political forums.

Ultimately, Abu Hamdan attempts to create a language for inadmissible voices and unspeakable truths, by investigating issues related to human rights, collective memory and auditory privacy. He gleans utterances that are disputed, professed, and bleeding, not only through walls, but through time.

This exhibition has been developed by the artist with the support of his team at the studio: Agata Cieslak, Nancy Naser Al Deen, and Nabla Yahya.





Natq, 2019, Exhibition views, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut





After SFX, 2018, Film stills


After SFX is an audiovisual installation using the sounds and stories from Abu Hamdan’s self-constructed sound effects library specific to the investigation of earwitness testimony. The 95 objects in his inventory, presented as a separate installation work in the show, are sourced from Earwitness interviews the artist conducted as well as from trial transcripts across the globe.







Earwitness Inventory, 2018-ongoing, Installation & detail views


Presenting an expanded library of over 90 sourced and custom-designed objects Earwitness Inventory explores the hallucinatory world of the earwitness. This work is informed by Abu Hamdan’s acoustic studies of the Syrian prison of Saydnaya in 2016 and legal cases across the world in which sonic evidence is contested and acoustic memories need to be retrieved. The installation reflects on how the experience and memory of acoustic violence is connected to the production of sound effects.





Disputed Utterances, 2019, Disputed Utterance, 2019, 14 laser-cut diorama, c-prints mounted on cardboard with wooden cases, 7 texts printed on PVC plates, 7 x 10 x 6 cm each


Disputed Utterance uses the technique of palatography, that prints specific shapes onto the roof of one’s mouth by putting a mixture of charcoal and olive oil on a tongue and pronouncing a word. This technique is used by linguists, language preservationists and speech therapists who, by learning to read these charcoal forms, can see exactly how their subject is pronouncing words. Abu Hamdan uses this technique to tell 7 stories of what is legally known as cases of Disputed Utterance: a trial where someone’s culpability or innocence is hinged upon conflicted claims over a recorded word or phrase. Each of these brief moments of critical misunderstandings and misinterpretations are rendered as 14 mouth-sized palatographic dioramas that amplify how a moment of utterance becomes a crime scene.




The Whole Truth, 2012, Installation views


The Whole Truth is an audio documentary about the current application of voice analysis as a lie detection method, recently piloted by European, Russian and Israeli governments and used by border agencies and insurance companies all over the world. The documentary, which experiments with the conventions of radio, consists of a collection of interviews with software developers, anthropologists and entrepreneurs of the biometric industry, from the Netherlands, USA and elsewhere. Reflecting on the somewhat arbitrary verdicts reached by these lie detectors, the work presents simultaneously the audio interviews, and their real-time analysis by the very same lie detecting technology.






For The Otherwise Unaccounted, 2019, Installation & detail views


In 1997 the psychiatrist and professor at Virginia School of Medicine, Dr. Ian Stevenson published his life work, “REINCARNATION AND BIOLOGY: The Etiology of Birthmarks”. The book was the result of field work in Asia, Turkey, Lebanon, across Africa and Alaska, in which he interviewed and investigated claims of reincarnation with particular attention to the correspondence of birthmarks on the reincarnated subject to the circumstances of their death in their previous lives. Stevenson’s book is a strange and beautiful mix of narrative literature, forensic analysis, biological data, historiography, theology and conflicting scientific hypotheses. In focusing on the claim to reincarnation rather than the ethnography of a single people, Stevenson’s monologue chronicles a collectivity of people who exist at the threshold of the law and for whom injustices and violence have otherwise escaped the historical record due to colonial subjugation, corruption, rural lawlessness and legal amnesty. Perhaps, counter to the intention of the author, what we see in his collection is not reincarnation as a scientific fact, but reincarnation used as a medium for justice. In the birthmark, testimony is stored in the body of the next generation, ensuring the survival of minor histories in the face of religious conversions, destruction of language and property, colonial occupation and territorial annexation.




Pink Floyd, 2019, Installation view


Read from right to left this diptych maps a sound before and after it moves through a 50cm thick plaster wall.




Once Removed, 2019, Film stills


This video work is a portrait of the time-travelling life of Bassel Abi Chahine, a 31-year-old writer and historian who has managed to obtain the most comprehensive inventory of extremely rare objects, photographs and interviews of the People Liberation Army (PLA) and Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) militia from the Lebanese civil war. His obsessive analysis, collection and unprecedented research into this one militia was done in pursuit of material to reconstitute what he describes as flashbacks and unexplainable memories from a previous life. Through his research Abi Chahine realized that his own lucid memories of a war he had not lived were due to the fact that he was the reincarnation of a soldier Yousef Fouad Al Jawhary, who died aged 16 on February 26, 1984 in the town of Aley.





Walled Unwalled, 2018, Installation views


In the year 2000 there was a total of fifteen fortified border walls and fences between sovereign nations. Today, physical barriers at sixty-three borders divide nations across four continents. Walled Unwalled is a performance-video installation that presents narratives derived from legal cases based on evidence heard or experienced through walls. It consists of a series of performances re-enactments and a monologue staged inside a trio of sound effects studios in the Funkhaus, East Berlin.