press release

Aural Contract is an ongoing research project by artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan that examines the politics of listening by focusing on the role of the voice in law. Commissioned by Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory, the project evolves further with the production of an audio documentary titled The Whole Truth and a set of maps titled Conflicted Phonemes. Both question the changing role of testimony in the face of new immigration policies, emerging technologies and sciences.

"Will it still be a fair hearing when nobody is listening?"

At Casco, these two works form an installation that also includes a new “voice activated” version of the project’s extensive audio archive. This archive contains audio extracts of Abu Hamdan’s past works and particular moments of juridical listening and speaking gathered from a wide range of sources such as the trials of Saddam Hussein and Judas Priest, UK police evidence tapes, films like Decoder and readings from texts including Italo Calvino’s ‘A King Listens.’ The presentation features a high-end Bosch audio system that is also used in the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Just as the law requires you to speak and vocally testify, so does Aural Contract: The Whole Truth, involving you in an active process of speaking and listening.

The Whole Truth The trigger for the audio documentary The Whole Truth is the current application of voice analysis as a lie detection method recently piloted by European, Russian and Israeli governments, as well as being employed in border agencies and insurance companies all over the world. This technology uses the voice as a kind of stethoscope, an instrument to measure internal bodily responses to stress and tension; a material channel that allows the law’s listening to bypass speech and delve deeper into the body of its subjects.

The documentary, which experiments with the conventions of radio, consists of a collection of interviews with software developers, anthropologists and entrepreneurs of the biometric industry from the Netherlands, USA, and elsewhere. To the listeners, it offers a fresh look into how truth is constituted, to whom truth matters and who can use it; it complicates the current conventions of testimony and its relationship to trauma, free speech, technology and the body. Listen to The Whole Truth trailer here.

Conflicted Phonemes Conflicted Phonemes, another new work, takes its cue from Abu Hamdan’s previous audio documentary The Freedom of Speech Itself. The latter explored the use of a test for identifying immigrants’ place of origin through their accents. The accents of Somali asylum seekers in the Netherlands have been a target of this type of voice analysis. In collaboration with Somali communities across the Netherlands and with support from Stichting LOS (Landelijk Ongedocumenteerden Steunpunt) and de Taalstudio, Conflicted Phonemes reveals the questionable nature of this technique by presenting a set of alternative maps of Somalia, showing a multiplicity of languages and singularized accents. This piece also includes testimonies of migratory journeys and the voice tests the contributors underwent.

During The Whole Truth exhibition, a press conference and official launching of the Conflicted Phonemes map is scheduled to take place on 12 December. For further information, please check our website.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan has been developing Aural Contract since 2010 as a commission by The Showroom, London, and as part of his PhD and Forensic Architecture department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College, London.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Aural Contract: The Whole Truth