“We’re all wall, and no wall at all.” Weaving together narratives in which sound, architecture, and politics intersect, Lawrence Abu Hamdan invokes this phrase in an audiovisual essay that contemplates our contradictory relationship to borders and privacy. The artist’s video Walled Unwalled (2018), at the heart of this exhibition and program of performances, invites visitors to consider the “ear-witness” as a form of legal testimony and how the physical act of listening can both exonerate and incriminate.
Abu Hamdan practices what he calls “forensic listening” by documenting and analyzing sound using video, installation, and live performance. In Walled Unwalled, he delivers a monologue citing trials that hinged on auditory evidence perceived and collected through walls or doors—including Kyllo v. United States (2001) and the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius (2014)—as well as the story of the survivors of Syria’s Saydnaya prison. The work was shot through the windows of a Cold War–era recording studio in former East Berlin that was used by state radio to broadcast propaganda throughout the Eastern Bloc and beyond the Berlin wall.
At MoMA, an expanded presentation of the work will utilize the Kravis Studio’s floor-to-ceiling glass window, layering Abu Hamdan’s large-scale video projection, the Museum’s architecture, and the Manhattan cityscape. The exhibition includes three live performances by the artist: After SFX (2018), Natq (2019), and Air Pressure (2021).
Organized by Ana Janevski, Curator of Media and Performance and Erica Papernik-Shimizu, Associate Curator of Media and Performance with May Makki, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance. Performances produced by Lizzie Gorfaine, Producer, and Kate Scherer, Manager and Producer, with Olivia Rousey, Assistant Performance Coordinator, Performance and Live Programs.