The Armory Show has announced that Lawrence Abu Hamdan, based between Beirut and London, is the Commissioned Artist for the 2015 fair. In this capacity, Abu Hamdan will help create the visual identity of the upcoming edition and undertake a unique on-site project at the fair as well as produce a limited edition artwork with proceeds benefitting the Museum of Modern Art. Abu Hamdan’s practice looks to measure the relationship between politics, human rights, international law and the act of listening through the production of audio documentaries and essays, installations, sculpture, photography and performance. Analyzing fundamental concepts of political speech – the oath, right to silence, freedom of press – are at the core of his work, often demonstrating that the battle for free speech is largely about controlling the conditions in which we are heard.
“I am delighted that The Armory Show chose me to be their 2015 Commissioned Artist, a rare opportunity that allows art and artists to be the subject of the fair, and a key part of its infrastructure. Unlike many other commissions, this offers an exciting platform for my work to engage with audiences in new ways and on multiple levels,” said Abu Hamdan.
Armory Focus: Middle East, North Africa and the Mediterranean (MENAM), curated by Omar Kholeif, proposes a new artistic map, anchored around the Mediterranean Sea. On the selection of Lawrence Abu Hamdan as the 2015 Commissioned Artist, Kholeif notes:
“Abu Hamdan is one of the most urgent artistic voices working today. His practice unfolds crucial questions about our reliance on technology and its continual exploitation by sources of power. The artist blurs the personal and the political with wry humor. He has captured my imagination over the years and I am certain that he will do the same at The Armory Show 2015.”
Generation of artists working across borders and disciplines and grounded with an acute interest in the politics of expression. We can’t wait to roll out his project over the coming months and are proud to offer a critical platform for him before our extensive audiences in New York City, and beyond.”
Born in Jordan in 1985, artist Abu Hamdan is fascinated with the types of listening devices used in today’s legal and political system. In 2013, aiming to insert his work directly into these forums, he allowed The Freedom of Speech Itself (2012) to be used as evidence in an asylum tribunal in the UK, where he also faced a grueling 35-minute cross-examination.
Abu Hamdan has achieved international acclaim through exhibitions at venues such as Van Abbemuseum, Tate Modern, Taipei Biennial, MuHKA Antwerp, MACBA Barcelona, Casco Utrecht, Beirut Art Center, Khoj Delhi, Wyspa Institute of Art Gdansk and The Showroom, London. Abu Hamdan has curated events at the Reitveld Academie in Amsterdam and at Batroun Projects in Lebanon. He is part of the team Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths College London where he is a Ph.D candidate and lecturer.
The Armory Show is New York’s leading fair for modern and contemporary art. A seminal event in the annual New York arts calendar, the fair spearheads Armory Arts Week, a citywide program of cultural events and exhibitions. The Armory Show 2015 will again feature an acclaimed VIP program, a lively opening night party at the Museum of Modern Art and the engaging Open Forum discussion series. The sixth edition of the Armory Focus introduces Edge of Arabia, Lead Cultural Partner of Armory Focus: MENAM and Art Jameel, Education Partner for the Focus Symposium.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan has quickly established himself at the forefront of politically focused and research driven sound art. His work with sound and its intersection with politics originate from his background in DIY music. In several of his prominently exhibited works, he has repurposed the radio documentary format, placing it in a contemporary art context as a form of text-sound compositions, enhanced with performative elements and three-dimensional visualizations. In such works, he has addressed the use of phonetic analysis of asylum seekers by immigration authorities (The Freedom of Speech Itself and Conflicted Phonemes, 2012) and the voice as a means of constituting national borders (Language Gulf in the Shouting Valley, 2013).
The artist’s specific sensitivity to voice, listening and technology has allowed him to reveal often dark and oppressive operations of power (The Whole Truth, 2012 and Resolution 978HD, 2013). Here, he works closely with Russell Finch, a BBC Radio 4 producer, to appropriate and push the limits of aesthetic practice and journalism. His new project, Contra-Diction: Speech Against Itself (2014), explores the linguistics of Taqiyya, a form of jurisprudence among the esoteric sects of Islam that allow believers to deny their faith and break other laws while under risk of persecution and statelessness.
Whether in his written work (Forensis, Manifesta Journal and Cabinet magazine), sculpture or audiovisual practice, Abu Hamdan analyses fundamental concepts of political speech – the oath, the right to silence, freedom of speech – and how attempts to demonstrate that the battle for free speech is now about the control over the conditions in which we are heard.
The Armory Show introduced its annual artist commission in 2002 with Karen Kilimnik. Since then, Barnaby Furnas (2003), Lisa Ruyter (2004), Jockum Nordström (2005), John Wesley (2006), Pipilotti Rist (2007), Mary Heilmann and John Waters (2008), Ewan Gibbs (2009), Susan Collis (2010), Gabriel Kuri (2011), Theaster Gates (2012), Liz Magic Laser (2013) and Xu Zhen (2014) have also contributed to the visual identity of the fair. In 2006, The Armory Show began publishing an annual series of limited editions by its commissioned artists to benefit the Pat Hearn and Colin de Land Cancer Foundation and The Museum of Modern Art.
Omar Kholeif is a writer, curator and editor. He is currently Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, Senior Visiting Curator at Cornerhouse and HOME, Manchester as well as Senior Editor of Ibraaz Publishing. Previously he headed up Art and Technology at SPACE, London (where he was director of The White Building, London’s centre for art and technology) and was Curator at FACT, Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool.
Kholeif has also been Artistic Director at the Arab British Centre, London and founding director of the UK’s Arab Film Festival. In 2012, he was a co-curator of the Liverpool Biennial. He was a founding editor of Portal 9, an Arabic-English journal of urbanism and architecture. His most recent publications include, You Are Here: Art After the Internet (2014), Virgin with a Memory (for Sophia Al-Maria) (2014) and Jeddah Childhood circa 1994 (2014). In 2015, he will curate the Pavilion for Cyprus at the 56th Venice Biennale and the Abraaj Group Art Prize at Art Dubai, UAE.