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LAWRENCE ABU HAMDAN, Conflicted Phonemes, 2012, timeline, vinyl wall print: 267 × 205 cm; voice maps: 21 × 29.7 cm. Courtesy the artist and mor charpentier, Paris.

The Art of Listening

Also available in:  Chinese

In the mountains of Lebanon, villagers drape strands of shiny magnetic tape pulled from old cassettes over fruit trees to ward off birds. No one pays too much attention to the tape—or its audio content. But a few years ago, Lawrence Abu Hamdan unwrapped a coil from a clementine tree and listened to it. What the Turner Prize-nominated artist heard were the words of an Islamic scholar talking about an esoteric Druze doctrine that allows individuals to deny their faith when under duress. The tape became the basis for a series of works that continued the artist’s practice of “forensic listening,” which ArtAsiaPacific reviews editor Ophelia Lai describes in her cover feature on the artist as “methodologies of hearing, soliciting, and utilizing audio evidence.” In the article, Lai dissects several of Abu Hamdan’s major projects, including his audio ballistic analysis of gunfire, his research into the weaponization of silence in a Syrian prison, and court trials where cases rest on “disputed utterances,” finding that the artist’s works uncover “the power dynamics implicit in who has the right to speak or remain silent, to record or be recorded.”

In March, the art world mourned the loss of legendary curator Okwui Enwezor. As a tribute to Enwezor’s enormous impact on contemporary art, particularly in his advocacy for artists from the Global South and the non-Western world, AAP invited artist Alfredo Jaar and curators Ute Meta Bauer, Hyunjin Kim, and Hou Hanru to reflect on their experiences working with Enwezor. Their reflections collectively reveal the profound impact that Enwezor left wherever he worked or traveled, and the urgent political beliefs that motivated his tireless efforts to rewrite the art historical canon from a decolonized perspective. 

Elsewhere in the Features section, Minh Nguyen interviews the Hanoi-based filmmaker Nguyen Trinh Thi, tracing the literary and documentary roots of her practice. In our regular In Depth feature, AAP’s editors look at recent videos, installations, and performance works by Joyce Ho, Christine Sun Kim, Naomi Blacklock, and Dylan Mira. Finally, in Inside Burger Collection, Alex Baker tracks the rise of self-taught artist Timothy Curtis, from his days of tagging street walls in Philadelphia to presenting his graffiti-inspired works in galleries. 

Over the summer, AAP editors judged the submissions for our second annual Young Writers Contest. We are pleased to publish the winning essay by Harry C. H. Choi who, noting the lack of memes and political satire in South Korea, analyzes the conditions there for free expression through the works of artists Hong Sung-dam, Minouk Lim, and Heecheon Kim. Also in the Essays section is critic and curator David Xu Borgonjon’s text on the “ancestral turn” in the practice of several Asian-American artists, including Wu Tsang, Taehee Whang, and Yen-Chao Lin, as he observes the “contradictory politics” of diasporic artists’ relationships to cultural and familial figures from the past. 

In our Profiles section, associate editor Chloe Chu explores the figurative works of Istanbul-based ─░nci Furni, who in her sketches of people and their leisure activities considers the idea of hobby as political inaction, and whose works will open Istanbul’s newly built Arter museum in September. Managing editor Ysabelle Cheung discusses the abject sculptures and installations of New York artist Sydney Shen, whose layered obsessions parallel that of meme culture. Finally, Italian arts patron Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo welcomed AAP to her family foundation in Turin to discuss her practice of supporting artist projects, providing residencies for curators, and mounting exhibitions for emerging artists.  

Elsewhere in the magazine, artist Htein Lin fondly recalls his encounters with Antony Gormley’s works, critic Alessandra Alliata Nobili files a Dispatch from Milan, and Heather Hubbs, executive director of the New Art Dealers Alliance, explains why the organization canceled its New York art fair, and is instead supporting galleries through programs that bring audiences to their exhibition spaces. For Where I Work, Ysabelle Cheung traveled to artist South Ho Siu Nam’s studio in the Hong Kong district of Fo Tan as he was preparing for his upcoming show at Blindspot Gallery. The social-activist-artist’s work brings people together against the gales of political, natural, and social forces. Finally, in Fine Print, Singapore-based contributing editor and lawyer Ryan Su explains how institutions must perform due diligence to prevent public controversies from erupting over revelations about the business interests of their patrons and board members—as happened recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Serpentine Galleries in London. 

As the artists, curators, and events discussed in this issue reveal, if cultural institutions and governments refuse to understand the perspectives of their constituents, then people will speak up loudly and actively seek ways to resist hegemonic structures in our societies.

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