Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Earwitness Theatre

Last week I visited Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s new co-commission for Chisenhale Gallery, Earwitness Theatre. For this exhibition, the Beirut-based artist presents a work that “explores the hallucinatory world of the earwitness”. His investigation around the Syrian regime prison of Saydaya and research into sonic evidence form the basis for Hamdan’s work at Chisenhale Gallery.

In 2016, he was invited by Amnesty International to complete an architectural investigation into the violations that took place in Saydnaya, a prison inaccessible to many and completely unknown outside Syria. As many as 13000 people have been executed in that prison since 2011.

Six former detainees were interviewed between January and April 2016. The violations taking place during those years are only recorded through the memory of those who survived.

These interviews are critical to Hamdan’s work. In the exhibition, he presents his library of custom designed and sourced object used to understand the experience of acoustic violence.

In an interview with Ellen Greig for Chisenhale Gallery, Hamdan argues that the exhibition, rather than giving a comprehensive account of all that was revealed in these interviews, acts as space where the experiences of the detainees can be explored and presented to the public in an unconventional way.

Focus element in the exhibition is Saydanaya (the missing 19db), a sound work hosted in a contained listening room set to total darkness. In this composition, the interviews are combined with sine pulses and silence and transformed into a dazzling 15 minutes work that sits inbetween sound art and documentary.


Earwitness Theatre, Press Release, Chisenhale Gallery, 2018.

Ellen Grieg: in conversation with Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Chisenhale Gallery, 2018.

Images by Francesco Imola

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