“We’re all wall, and no wall at all,” Lawrence Abu Hamdan has written. With this phrase, he described a world paradoxically inundated with both physical barriers and surveillance technology that can permeate any surface. 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 records using video, installation, and live performance. In Walled Unwalled, he delivers a monologue citing legal cases 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 survivors of the Syrian regime’s Saydnaya military 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. Walled Unwalled will be presented alongside three performances described by the artist as “audio-visual essays,” which contemplate the intersection of sound and politics: After SFX (2018), Natq (2019), and Air Pressure (2021).
Organized by Ana Janevski, Curator, and Erica Papernik-Shimizu, Associate Curator, 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.