Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Aural Contract: The Freedom of Speech Itself

From 2010-12, The Showroom worked with artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan on the ongoing research project Aural Contract, commissioned as part of the gallery’s participatory programme Communal Knowledge. Constituted by a series of events, publications, performances, exhibitions, interviews, compositions and workshops, Aural Contract examines the politics of listening through a focus on the role of the voice in law. Throughout the project Abu Hamdan built up a sound archive, containing audio extracts of his works together with specific 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 such as Decoder and readings from texts including Italo Calvino’s A King Listens.

The Showroom presented the most recent stages of the project as an installation featuring a new commission The Freedom of Speech Itself, excerpts from Abu Hamdan’s audio archive, and a workshop led by the artist on Harold Pinter’s play Mountain Language. To accompany the exhibition a series of events titled The Right to Silence focused on the legal status of the voice, programmed in collaboration with Electra.

The Freedom of Speech Itself is an audio documentary looking at the history and contemporary application of forensic speech analysis and voice-prints, focusing on the UK’s controversial use of voice analysis to determine the origins and authenticity of asylum seekers’ accents. Testimonies from lawyers, phonetic experts, asylum seekers and Home Office officials reveal the geo-politics of accents and the practice of listening that led to shocking stories of wrongful deportations. When combined with the experimental audio composition these interviews are designed to fully immerse the listener in the heart of a discussion that profoundly problematises the nature of listening, forensics, free speech, migration, borders and the law.

The Freedom of Speech Itself was produced by Somethin’ Else and commissioned by The Showroom and Forensic Architecture at the Department of Visual Cultures Goldsmiths, University of London.

The project is part of Communal Knowledge supported by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and John Lyon’s Charity. It is also part of Survival Kit: Art linking society, knowledge and activism, supported by the Culture 2007–13 programme of the European Union.


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