From phone films to ballistics reports, testimony is central to this powerful survey of contemporary Arab art
In the spring of 2014, in one of the most controversial crimes of recent times, Israeli border guards shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank town of Beitunia. CNN reporters captured the deaths on camera, disproving the soldiers' claim that they were quelling a riot; but still the Israeli government defended its own. In the chaotic investigation that followed, audio-ballistic spectrograms of the event produced by the Amman-born artist and “audio investigator” Lawrence Abu Hamdan proved crucial. He was asked – as we are now, in his immensely powerful installation at Nottingham Contemporary – to listen rather than look.
The spectrograms hang before you like targets in a shooting gallery. Each represents a different kind of gunshot, plucked from the soundtrack of carnage; and each approaches or recedes according to the trial unfolding in transcript on a screen below. Were the soldiers firing live ammunition or rubber bullets, as they insisted? Or were they in fact trying to disguise the fatal shots to make them sound like rubber bullets, with murderous intent? Hamdan gave the clinching evidence; but what strikes is the eerie silence of his installation. The case appears more horrifying as the lies and distortions are laid bare on screen, uninflected by the mollifying tones of human voices. The bodies of evidence hang in the air, ghosts of the speechless victims.