“A blind man sees the world so clearly. Eyes are but credible deceivers.”
- Valle Inclán, Bohemian Lights
Vision takes you by the nose and drags you after it. We access the past with hindsight. We even see what one another mean. Our sight is infinitely versatile – we can watch, look, peek, glance, gaze, ogle, glimpse, peer and stare. Compare the paucity of our ears, with which we can merely listen or hear. Abu Hamdan, in league with Amnesty International, has extended the modal dominion of the ears by reclaiming their right to witness.
Every crime leaves something behind, but visual traces are apt to be lost as the hegemony clenches its twin pincers of erasure and saturation. In defiance, Abu Hamdan hands the mantle of truth over to sound, where mottled noise becomes an audio blueprint, and the ring of a gunshot testifies to the shape of its bullet. In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers killed two unarmed teens with supposedly ‘non-lethal’ rubber bullets, but recordings of the weapons going off tell another story. In Syria’s Saydnaya prison, inmates have their sight stolen from them, and human-rights groups have no way of monitoring internal conditions, but here again sound may provide a lever to wedge against the deadbolts of darkness.
Sound can, however, be an equally powerful tool for incumbent power. Abu Hamdan reveals how the UK government uses the high-pitched frequencies of the street electricity boxes to geotag footage taken by the public, and thereby secretly surveil the citizenry. He shares technology being developed in the USA to listen in on private conversations by mapping molecular movements caused by sound waves on the surfaces of everyday objects.
Despite the volley of facts, Abu Hamdan cannot be accused of subjugating art to science – all of this comes out in artworks that range from humorous to macabre, finding form in striking sculpture, video, and artistic interactions. In Birdwatching, he brings the audience through a fascinating dossier of sonic sleuthing, as well as strumming a complex tablature of politics and art praxis. As the line between aesthetics and anaesthetics becomes increasingly blurred, Abu Hamdan’s troubling subject matter brings with it the right kind of ache. As contemporary art resists the encore of history which calls it raucously back to the lap of the global super-rich, as it sinks ever deeper into the stymying quicksand of hyper-capitalism, Birdwatching is a vine thrown out.
Anthony for DRAFF