Sound and the absence thereof at CAM

    By Christina Chastain

    Sound is on view at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis until Aug. 18.

    Beirut-based artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan explores the politics of listening through installations acutely attentive to sound.

    “Lawrence considers himself a sort of ear-witness investigator. He’s interested in sound and the role that sound plays in investigations – criminal and other,” said Wassan Al-Khudhairi, Chief Curator at the Contemporary Art Museum.

    “What you’ll find in the exhibition are three key works of art – large installations. One is a sound-listening room. The work is called Saydnaya (the missing 19db). It has clips of recordings and interviews that Lawrence did with the detainees from the Saydnaya prison in Syria,” said Al-Khudhairi.

    In the Saydnaya prison, which still operates today, detainees are tortured, often blindfolded, and left in darkness. Saydnaya (the missing 19db) examines crimes that are heard, but never seen.

    You can learn more about the Saydnaya prison, here.

    “The second work is Earwitness Inventory, which is a sort of library from sound effect objects that Lawrence has put together,” said Al-Khudhairi. “He quickly realized with the interviews from the detainees that we don’t have a language to talk about the sounds that we hear often. So, what you’ll see are a number of works that look like mundane objects, but these are all objects that are used to make specific sounds that have nothing to do with what the object is.”

    The library of objects are used as mnemonic devices to facilitate re-enactments of crimes, such as Car Door Instrument (2018) – an object used to mimic the sound of being thrown into a trunk or van compartment

    “The third work is a piece called Walled/Unwalled, which is a video installation,” said Al-Khudhairi. “It’s a work that explores the leakage of sound – how sound cannot be contained and what that means, particularly in relation to the Saydnaya prison, but also multiple different criminal investigations.”

    “Lawrence’s work really asks the visitor to slow down and just take a little time to kind of process and break down what it is he’s trying to present,” said Al-Khudhairi. “Upon first look, you might not understand why some of this is art, but it requires the victory to dig deep and read or have conversations or really just think through what it is he’s trying to present.”

    Also on display is an outdoor exhibit by Eric Ellingsen called Tool Shed.

    “I thought it would be interesting to invite a second artist, who also works with sound, to think about it in the context of St. Louis,” said Al-Khudhairi.

    Another aspect that ties many of the works together in CAM’s Summer Exhibits is the notion of absence.

    “The absence of sound in Lawrence’s work is similar to the absence of the form in Paul’s work,” said Al-Khudhairi.

    Paul Mpagi Sepuya’s work challenges the history of photography and deconstructs traditional portraiture by way of collage, layering, fragmentation, and mirror imagery.

    “As much as you might look at these photographs and see body parts and figures, there are also times where the figure might not be fully present, but there are traces of the figure,” said Al-Khudhairi.

    Be sure to check out First Fridays at CAM, Aug. 2, for an exhibition tour, a drink at the bar, and the variable loops of DJ Syna So Pro.

    Also, on Saturday, Aug. 3, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, Co-Artistic Director of Dance at COCA and Alvin Ailey dancer, responds to the photographs of Paul Mpagi Sepuya with words, movement, and images of his own. Click here for tickets.