I was intending to write about some of the art shows I saw in London just over a month ago, including Rose Wylie at the Serpentine Gallery; Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain; Cezanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery; and Basquiat “Boom for Real” at the Barbican.
While all of these exhibitions had an impact on me, the show about which I have been thinking for the last few weeks is From Ear to Ear to Eye which I saw a few days earlier at the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery in the East Midlands. I hadn’t intended to see art that day. I was killing time on a cold rainy morning before a lunch appointment, and went into the gallery knowing it was free and warm. I thought I’d zip through whatever show was on before retreating to the café for a cup of coffee.
The catalogue introduction to the show describes it thus:
“From Ear to Ear to Eye explores the politics of sound, music and listening in one of the largest UK surveys of contemporary art from across the Arab world.”
The show was interesting but the installation in the first room was absolutely riveting……
In Rubber Coated Steel the artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan had created an installation reminiscent of a shooting range where the target panels, hanging from tracks, had been replaced by attractive colored prints – or at least that’s what I thought they were. The sound track comprised of strange thuds. There was no explanatory panel on the wall and it would have been very easy to move quickly on to the next room. But because I had time I sat in front of a screen and watched, or rather I read, the transcript of a murder trial held in an Israeli court.
From the review of the show in the Guardian:
As I sat in this shooting-range interior and followed the subtitles on the screen I started to understand that the panels were in fact spectrograms and the sound track was the sound of rubber bullets. The forensic sound-science described in the transcript was fascinating and I became thoroughly involved in the story of the investigation. I no longer saw the panels as art - the installation had become much more compelling on a completely different level.
The powerful presentation of this piece has stayed with me because Hamdan taught me something I would never otherwise have known. He did so not by making me read written descriptors but by encouraging me to deduce the meaning of my surroundings, and the colored panels, through an act of discovery. In coming to an understanding of the scientific evidence involved in this trial my awareness of the political environment in which it occurred was increased.
The exhibition remains on show until early March and I would encourage anyone in the area to visit.