By Skye Sherwin
A shooting range recreating the thunk of Israeli soldiers firing at Palestinian teenagers is the highlight of this survey of Arab sound art, which captures responses to conflict and upheaval in the Middle East
The stakes start high in From Ear to Ear to Eye, the largest UK survey to date of art from the Arab world, and with an emphasis on sound. In a mock-up of a shooting range, spectrograms – rainbow visualisations of sound frequencies – have replaced the silhouettes of bodies that are the marksman's usual targets. A gripping real-life courtroom drama unfolds on the video at its centre, the case of Israeli soldiers who killed two Palestinian teenagers using live ammunition, not rubber bullets as they had claimed. Rather than recreate the trial, however, the artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan conveys its transcript via silent subtitles. Filling the space is a constant hum of different frequencies, interrupted occasionally by the thunk, thunk of shots fired.
Developed by Abu Hamdan with researchers at Goldsmiths College, London, the spectrograms are the focus of the action. They represent an analysis of a recording of the fatal gunfire and became the key piece of evidence in convicting the soldiers. What this work most forcefully underscores though is silence: the human rights atrocities that remain unreported; the voiceless victims. In an adjacent video by the American artist Joe Namy exploring translation, a reflection on physical silence, as when a 1,000-year-old poem is torn in half, resonates loudly.