Beirut Art Center will soon close Esma’ / Listen, a journey in the works of artists and composers developing contemporary forms of listening. As our acoustic sensitivity exposes us to sound before anything else, listening is the counterpart of this porosity of the senses: it is an act; it samples or filters the sound material that we receive; it may be immersive, but is also likely to detail, reproduce and translate sounds by means of our analytical capabilities, as well as by way of recording and amplification techniques.
At a time when audiovisual media is increasingly omnipresent and efficient, the act of listening itself turns into an object of artistic research. It is akin to a project, an experiment or a critical practice. The artists and composers gathered here use sensory modalities in different manners, in order to describe or produce a particular state of reception or interpretation of sound, of the beliefs it entails, the information it conveys, and the individual and collective territories thus determined. The works in this exhibition are articulated around the notions of silence and enlargement of the acoustic spectrum, whether to experiment with the limits of perception or to put recording techniques to the test. They involve different gestures inspired by a practical or imaginary experience of sound, aimed at the production or reproduction of this experience.
Marcella Lista is an art historian based in Paris and chief curator of the New Media collection at the Centre Pompidou. Her research work deals with the trans-disciplinary aspects of history of modernity, in particular with questions related to the archaeology of media and performance arts, leading to extended theories of abstraction. Her critical work in contemporary art is engaged in various topics, from conceptual dance and performance through post-photographic practices.
Marie Muracciole is an art critic, a writer and an independent curator based in Beirut and Paris. Since February 2014 she is the head of Beirut Art Center. Among others, she worked with Allan Sekula, Yto Barrada and Claude Closky.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist, ’private ear’, and currently a fellow at the Vera List center Center for Art and politics Politics at the at the New School, NYC. His projects have taken the form of audiovisual installations, performances, photography, Islamic sermons, cassette tape compositions, potato chip packets, essays, and lectures. In 2013 Abu Hamdan’s audio documentary The Freedom of Speech Itself was submitted as evidence at the UK asylum tribunal where the artist himself was called to testify as an expert witness. He continues to make sonic analyses for legal investigations and advocacy for human rights groups including Defence for Children International and Amnesty International.
Francis Alÿs was born in Antwerp in 1959. He lives and works in Mexico City. Trained as an architect, Francis Alÿs moved to Mexico in 1986 and entered the field of visual arts. His practice embraces multiple medias, from painting and drawing to video and photography. Although he is based in Mexico City, he has done numerous projects over the last 20 years in collaboration with local communities around the world, from South America to North Africa and most recently with teenagers in the Turkey-Armenian border.
Vartan Avakian is an artist based in Beirut born in 1977 in Byblos, Lebanon. He works with video, photography and natural material. Avakian studied Architecture and Urban Culture at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and Communication Arts at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. He is a founding member of the art collective Atfal Ahdath and a member of the Arab Image Foundation. Avakian was the recipient of Abraaj Group Art Prize in 2013. He is represented by Kalfayan Galleries, Athens-Thessaloniki.
Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz have been working together in Berlin since 2007. Their staged films and film installations often start with a song, a picture, a film or a script from the past. They produce performances for the camera, staging the actions of individuals and groups living — indeed thriving — in defiance of normality, law and economics. Their films upset normative historical narratives, as figures across time are staged, projected and layered. Their performers are choreographers, artists and musicians, with whom they are having a long-term conversation about performance, the meaning of visibility since early modernity, the pathologization of bodies, but also about glamour and resistance.
Moyra Davey was born in Canada in 1958. She is a photographer/filmmaker. She has produced six narrative videos including Notes On Blue (2015), My Saints (2014), Les Goddesses (2011) and Fifty Minutes (2006). She is the author of Burn the Diaries, I’m Your Fan, Long Life Cool White, The Problem of Reading and editor of Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood. Davey lives in New York City where she is currently at work on a new video commission for a solo show at Kunsthalle Bergen in November 2016.
Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson have co-authored a body of works producing forms, objects, images and experiences, equally incorporating the mediums of photography, video, sound, performance, sculpture and artists books since they began working together in 1998.
Pierre Huyghe was born in 1962. He is a French artist who creates projects that point up multiple, complex narratives, often within pre-existing facts and fictionals or real cultural events. In a rich body of work that includes films, installations, and sculptures, Huyghe suggests the ways in which identity and subjective experience are deeply informed by particular historical moments. Huyghe’s investigations into cultural production explore how media representations and social rituals shape contemporary reality.
A trailblazing force in electro-acoustic music, avant-garde composer and performer Alvin Lucier was born in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1931; educated at Yale and Brandeis, he also spent two years in Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship before returning to Brandeis in 1962 to teach and conduct the university’s chamber chorus. His breakthrough composition, Music for Solo Performer (1964 – 1965) for Enormously Amplified Brain Waves and Percussion, was the first work to feature sounds generated by brain waves in live performance. With this piece he also discovered the physicality of sound and acoustical phenomena have been the main subject of his work since. As in 1970s landmark I am Sitting in A Room, in which recorded speech was played back into a room and re-recorded there dozens of times, the space – the natural resonances of the space – gradually filtering the speech into pure sound. 1977’s Music on a Long Thin Wire was a further extension of Lucier’s fascination with the physics of sound — a piece featuring a very long wire passed through the poles of a large magnet and driven by an amplified oscillator, the amplified vibrations yield beautiful acoustical phenomena. A professor at Wesleyan University from 1970 onward, Lucier’s later works additionally included a number of sound installations as well as works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and orchestra.
Christian Marclay was born in California in 1955. He works in a wide range of media, including sculpture, video, photography, collage, and performance. For more than 30 years, he has been exploring the connections between the visual and the audible, creating works in which these two distinct sensorial experiences enrich and challenge each other. Marclay’s work has been shown in museums and galleries internationally.
Olaf Nicolai is considered one of Germany’s leading artists. He takes on a range of conceptual themes, from political and cultural critiques to inquiries into human perception. A recurring subject is the aesthetic appropriation of nature by human culture and design, explored through mixed-media sculptures and images, as in his juxtaposition of plant forms with depictions of hand gestures in Italian Renaissance paintings. “Questions of form, moods, attitudes, and style are not just vain play with surfaces,” Nicolai has said. “They are questions of organisational forms of activities.” In his recent work Escalier du Chant (Staircase of Song) (2011), Nicolai took over the sweeping staircase of Munich’s modern art museum, Pinakothek der Moderne, for one Sunday of each month in 2011. Throughout the day, performers would sing the songs of 12 international contemporary composers which addressed political issues that took place throughout that year creating a new aesthetic context for the year’s political events.
Sharif Sehnaoui is a free improvising guitarist. He plays both electric and acoustic guitars, with (or without) extended and prepared techniques, focusing on expanding the intrinsic possibilities of these instruments without the use of effects or electronics. He now resides in Beirut, his hometown, after more than a decade in Paris, where he started his career as an improviser in 1998, playing at Instants Chavirés where he was a member of several orchestras. He has since performed his music worldwide and played in many clubs and festivals. In Lebanon, he actively contributed to the emergence of an unprecedented experimental music scene. Along with Mazen Kerbaj he created in 2000 Irtijal, the first improvised and new music annual international festival in the Arab world. Irtijal celebrated its XVth anniversary in 2015. He also runs two record labels: Al Maslakh, devoted to ’publish the un-publishable’ on the Lebanese musical scene and Annihaya, focusing on sampling, recycling and the displacement of various aspects of popular culture.
Jessica Warboys was born in 1977 in UK. She studied at Falmouth College of Arts and Slade School of Art, London. She currently lives between Suffolk and Berlin where she works with film, painting and sculpture.
Cynthia Zaven is a composer, pianist and artist based in Beirut. She performs classical, experimental and improvised music in solo shows as well as in collaboration with other artists. Her projects combine a variety of media including video, photography, performance and the use of archive material to explore the relationship between sound, memory and identity through interwoven narratives. Since 1993, Zaven has also composed original scores and created sound designs for film, theater, live performance, dance, visual art, and conceptual art projects. In July 2015, Eurasians Unity, the ensemble she is member of was awarded the Ruth prize for world music at the Rudolstadt World Music Festival in Germany. Her music has been published by the Berlin based label, Staalplaat. She is currently a piano professor at the Higher National Conservatory of Music in Beirut.