– Summer 2015

Events, Works, Exhibitions

Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Trilogy of Truth

Anders Kreuger

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Aural Contract: The Voice Before the Law, 2014, live audio essay. Performance view, ‘Meeting Points 7’, Beirut Art Centre, Beirut. Courtesy the artist

Aesthetics and Genre

This is my attempt to analyse Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s three ‘auditory curiosities’1 titled The Freedom of Speech Itself (2012), The Whole Truth (2012) and Contra Diction: Speech Against Itself (2014– ongoing). I will first make some brief remarks on their form (or more precisely, their meta-form, their relation to genre) before talking about their content. 
The last work is defined as a live audio essay, an experimental format reminiscent of the lecture-performance, while the first two are recorded text-sound compositions that Abu Hamdan has chosen to call documentaries. That is, broadly speaking, credible, but mostly in an aesthetic sense.

The Freedom of Speech Itself and The Whole Truth reference some mannerisms of radio programmes or podcasts, from the ironic library music easing the passage between sub-topics to the dry corporate jingle when a knowledgeable specialist from a regional university is contacted
on Skype. They make the making of
the audio medium audible, but pay only cursory attention to the objectivity protocol of mainstream journalism.

A documentary, we have learned, must make a point of reporting objective facts. Abu Hamdan makes this point.
 In The Freedom of Speech Itself, he reveals politically and commercially motivated charlatanry and abuse of science in the Swedish-designed ‘accent tests’ to which many governments submit asylum seekers without identity papers.

  1. Anthropologist Tom Rice of the University of Exeter, interviewed by Lawrence Abu Hamdan in The Whole Truth about the invention of the stethoscope in 1860, argues that this device changed doctors’ attitudes towards their patients’ bodies, so that they became ‘auditory curiosities, things to be listened to’.

  2. Conversation with the artist, 3 January 2015.

  3. As recounted by the artist Miriam Bäckström, who attended the seminar at Moderna Museet in 
Stockholm in the spring of 2006 where Eric M. Nilsson made this remark.

  4. For clarity, I will be referring to the version of Contra Diction: Speech Against Itself that video artist Nesrine Khodr filmed and edited. It was performed by Abu Hamdan for her video camera, without an audience. Documentation of another performance of the work at Studio Theatre, Brighton on
4 September 2014 is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1JZaBfCRVI (last accessed on 7 April 2015).

  5. A video file of Abu Hamdan’s The Whole Truth (2012) is available at http://www.forensic-architecture. org/file/forensic-listening (last accessed on 3 March 2015).

  6. An audio file of Abu Hamdan’s The Freedom of Speech Itself (2012) is available at http://www.forensic- architecture.org/file/forensic-listening (last accessed on 3 March 2015).

  7. At the symposium ‘Just Who Do You Think You Are?’, Cinema Zuid, Antwerp, 14 June 2014, organised by the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (M HKA) in collaboration with Contemporary
Art Heritage Flanders (CAHF). A video recording is available at http://afteridentity.muhka.be/program (last accessed on 3 March 2015).

  8. Indo-European languages are spoken as far east as Sri Lanka and as far west as Iceland, as well as
in former European colonies all over the world. This language ‘family tree’ is divided into a number
of ‘branches’, including Indo-Iranian, Greek, Romance, Celtic, Germanic, Slavic and Baltic. All are believed to have had a common ‘ancestor’, and there are several theories about where and when this hypothetical Proto-Indo-European language might have existed. Afro-Asiatic languages are spoken
in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. The family is subdivided into Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, ancient Egyptian, Omotic and Semitic languages. These languages were considered ‘cousins’ already in antiquity, and the traditional term Hamito-Semitic is derived from the names of Noah’s sons Sem and Ham. The major Semitic languages spoken today are Arabic, Amharic and Hebrew.

  9. The perhaps best-known among these are the German linguists August Schleicher (1821—68) and Karl Brugmann (1849—1919) and archaeologist Gustaf Kossinna (1858—1931); the French linguists Antoine Meillet (1866—1936), Georges Dumézil (1898—1986) and Émile Benveniste (1902—76); the Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade (1907—86); and the Lithuanian-American archaeologist Marija Gimbutienė (1921—94).

  10. Two reports, simultaneously released in March 2015, claimed to give credible support to the ‘Indo- European Steppe Hypothesis’ (i.e. the idea that the Urvolk, or primeval people, descended on Europe from somewhere on the steppes north of the Black Sea or perhaps a bit further east): one by an international team of DNA analysts led by Professor David Reich at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the other by a team of linguists at the University of California, Berkeley. See David Reich et al., ‘Massive migration from the steppe was a source for Indo-European languages in Europe’, Nature, 2 March 2015, available at http://biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2015/02/10/013433.full.pdf; and Will Chang, Chundra Cathcart, David Hall and Andrew Garrett, ‘Ancestry-constrained phylogenetic analysis supports the Indo-European steppe hypothesis’, Language, vol.91, no.1, March 2015, available at http://www.linguisticsociety.org/files/news/ChangEtAlPreprint.pdf (both last accessed on 3 March 2015). See also French archaeologist Jean-Paul Demoule’s critical survey of this field of research, Mais où sont passés les Indo-Européens? Le mythe d’origine de l’Occident (Paris: Seuil, 2014), which challenges two fundamental ideas: the ‘family tree’ of languages and the successive invasions of prehistoric Europe.

  11. With one important exception: the Sumerians, the first people to enter written history. No one knows the origin of their language, which faded out of everyday use around 2000 BCE but was the first to be kept alive artificially as a liturgical and classical language (by the Akkadians and Babylonians, who spoke now-extinct Semitic languages).

  12. See J.-P. Demoule, ‘Le retour de l’extrême droite aryenne et païenne (de 1945 à nos jours)’, Mais où sont passés les Indo-Européens?, op. cit., pp.273—317.

  13. Abu Hamdan’s sound analysis is part of a collaborative research project undertaken by the Forensic Architecture project at Goldsmiths, University of London at the request of the human rights organisation Defence for Children International Palestine on behalf of the parents of the two deceased teenagers. The project report has been published online at http://beitunia.forensic-architecture.org/ introduction (last accessed on 3 March 2015).

  14. See Ethnologue: Languages of the World [website], available at http://www.ethnologue.com (last accessed on 5 March 2015).

  15. In the meantime, Henri Bergson, perhaps the greatest philosopher of science, went ahead and forged the two doctrines into the new concept of Creative Evolution, which reconciles the possibility of an external initial impulse, perhaps from a Creator, with the observable process of evolution in nature. See H. Bergson, L’Évolution créatrice, Paris: Félix Alcan, 1907.

  16. For an overview, I refer readers to an unusually informative and well-written Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language (last accessed on 5 March 2015).

  17. See Slavoj Žižek’s summary and interpretation of Bergson and others in Event: Philosophy in Transit, London: Penguin Books, 2014, pp.111—15.

  18. Helge D. Rinholm, Toward the Semantic Distinctive Features of Lithuanian Prepositions and Preverbs: An Invariant Component Analysis, Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1980.