From Ear to Ear to Eye

From Ear to Ear to Eye: Sounds and Stories
from Across the
Arab World
Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK
16.12.17 – 04.03.18

I trace the contour of my throat from ear to ear. A hint of perfume on my fingers, the slight pressure unpleasant against my tonsils. I do this instinctively as I listen to a translator working on the English subtitles for the videos of Abounaddara, a collective who produce videos from the Syrian civil war and disseminate them online. The translator is stuck on a moment of incredible violence, the description of a prisoner whose throat was slit ‘from ear to ear’, trying to find the right words, something that won’t sound like a smile. Another translator featured in the same video installation – Joe Namy’s Purple, Bodies in Translation – Part II of A Yellow Memory from the Yellow Age ( 2017 ), which interviews translators working on these videos, often produced by and featuring people they have never met – points out another impossible-to-translate term: the word shahid. It literally means ‘to have been witnessed’. By God, that is. It means that to be witnessed is what gives life meaning ( and by extension, what gives self-sacrifice cause ).

To witness, Susan Sontag writes in her book On Photography ( 1977 ), precludes intervention. Yet forms of witnessing can still be active: listening, reconstructing, sharing. In Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige’s film, ISMYRNE ( 2016 ), Hadjithomas and the poet and painter Etel Adnan ( whose drawings are included in this show ) try to reconstruct an image of the city of Smyrna ( today, Izmir in Turkey ), where both their families are from. Together, looking at maps and photographs, they tell their family histories, trading memories of a place now gone. Adnan and Hadjithomas are joined in this by several other artists in this exhibition, whose work traces histories of bygone places, lost heritage, or stories that shaped their childhoods and sense of place. An exhibition of art from across the Arab world is bound to ask questions about flux and shifts, and many of the works on view deal with migration and the reconstruction of a sense of place thereafter. Basma Alsharif, born to a Palestinian family in exile, presents The Story of Milk and Honey ( 2011 ), an attempt to write a love story about the Levant not marred by politics – the impossibility of this task becomes the subject of her wonderful, nuanced video, which shifts quickly from fiction to life.

From Ear to Ear to Eye focuses on sound and stories from the Arab world, and music as a form of shared culture resonates throughout. In Jumana Manna’s video, A Magical Substance Flows into Me ( 2015 ), the artist plays excerpts from ethnomusicologist Robert Lachmann’s radio show, Oriental Music, to musicians of Kurdish, Samaritan, Palestinian and Sephardic Jewish backgrounds. Their interactions, as they listen together, are very personal: the interviewees tell Manna about tradition and memories; they reflect together on an expired image of the local culture of the region, and the remove is twofold – the recordings date back to the 1920s and 30s, and their originator, Lachmann, was a German Jew who studied French and Arabic language and culture, and became interested in Middle Eastern music when serving as a simultaneous translator at a POW camp during the First World War.

These spliced histories in Manna’s feature-length video encapsulate a message that the exhibition communicates across the selection of works: that no single account is ever whole, that witnessing is a continuous narrative. The parsing of global politics – because nothing that happens in the Middle East is contained within the region, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is a push-pull of international influence played out by governments and religious organisations, to the bloodshed in Syria, where Cold War powers still vie for influence at the expense of civilians, a huge number of whom have sought refuge in Europe – into legible, relatable individual stories is a recognisable strategy from other exhibitions about Middle Eastern art in recent years, notably New York’s New Museum’s 2014 show, Here and Elsewhere. Indeed, From Ear to Ear to Eye does not make its viewers too uncomfortable: the stories are engaging, the music echoes across the exhibition halls ( and some people dance ), yet it doesn’t allow them to remain at a safe distance. Curator Sam Thorne’s decision to focus on works that explore sound and listening presents two answers to the insoluble question of how a viewer in a contemporary art space in Northern England experiences a region that is so present in daily discourse, yet still undeniably far and misrepresented. The first is an assertion that the histories that have been reflected in so many clichéd images, from news to art, can be told a different way, simply by focusing on time-based media rather than single images. The second is the exhibition’s emphasis on listening, which implicates the viewers’ bodies, generating intimacy and empathy, while also allowing for a complex view of this history, like its title: a reminder that what seems poetic can be rife with blood.

The exchange between music and national identity is further explored in Haig Aivazian’s project, Hastayım Yaşıyorum ( I Am Sick But I Am Alive, 2016 ), which is based on the story of Turkish-Armenian oud player Udi Hrant Kenkulian ( 1901 – 1978 ), a proponent of Turkish art music, which fuses Ottoman and Western classical music and was adopted by the Turkish Republic as a hallmark of its new modern state. In Ruins in Space ( 2014 ), Raed Yassin tells a tale, which may or may not be true, about a lost record he supposedly found on eBay of an unknown performance by the hugely popular Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, which was aired on Korean radio in 1968. It’s such a good story it makes you want to believe that which you cannot verify – until you remember that evidence instigates change.

The first work on view in the show is Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Earshot ( 2016 ), a sound, video and data installation imagining the trial of two Israeli soldiers who in 2014 killed two Palestinian teenagers in the Occupied Territories. An acoustic analysis of the recorded gunshots, which Abu Hamdan produced in collaboration with the Forensic Architecture research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, serves to discredit the soldiers’ claim that they used rubber bullets. Part of Forensic Architecture, the Forensic Oceanography project presents Liquid Traces – The Left-to-Die Boat Case ( 2014 ), a visual report comprising video, sound, interviews, maps, photographs and other material documenting the tragedy of seventy-two refugees aboard a dingy that ran out of fuel halfway between Tripoli and the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2011. The boat drifted for two weeks in the most surveilled waters in the world, in and out of Italian, Maltese and NATO-run search and rescue zones, without receiving any offer of assistance. Forensic Oceanography’s report is a testimony to the restriction of movement and the limits of compassion, as the European Union faces an unprecedented refugee crisis, which plays out in the Mediterranean as much as on the footpaths of Eastern Europe.

To witness has a legal connotation, but also an ethical one. The works in this show do more than make politics, history or place relatable: they add a multiplicity of sounds, stories and voices. Malak Helmy’s sound installation, Music for Drifting ( 2013 ), is installed within the narrow confines of the staircase in the three-storey museum building wedged into one side of a hill. It’s a 42-minute compilation of soundscapes recorded across sites of historical importance across Egypt – a port used as an embarkation point for emigrants, a battlefield and the designated site for a nuclear power station. Helmy intended to send the recordings to a lost lover by homing pigeon, but the plan was interrupted by the 2013 military coup. To listen to the sound of a faraway wind from years ago is a reminder that the experience of conflict is always personal. People still fall in love in times of war and revolt – an eternal truth, but almost inexplicable. This serves as a reminder that our lives are complex and multifaceted, and that their stories are always worth listening to.


2017 年12 月17 日—2018 年3 月4 日

译 / 梁霄

我在两耳之间感觉自己喉咙的轮廓。我的指尖有少许淡淡的香气,扁桃体有种轻微的不适。当我聆听一位翻译者描述他是如何为Abounaddara 的作品进行英语字幕翻译时,我本能地这么感受到了。作为匿名创作小组,Abounaddara 拍摄有关叙利亚内战的视频并令其在网上传播。翻译者此刻似乎陷入了一种难以置信的暴力,他必须描述一名犯人的喉咙从“两耳之间”被割下来的情节,他试图找到准确的词语,让关于这个行为的形容听起来不像是一个微笑。(译者注:from ear to ear 在英语中为惯用搭配,一般用来形容满脸微笑。)乔·纳米的这件影像装置作品《紫色,翻译中的身体—来自黄色时代的黄色记忆,第二部分》采访了为这些视频工作的翻译者,而无论是视频的主角还是制作人,翻译者和他们都从未彼此见过。作品中的另一位翻译者则指出了一个不可译的单词“shahid”。从字面意思理解,它意味着被上帝“目击”,意味着正是这种被目击的事实赋予了生命意义(引申开来,也给出了自我牺牲的原因)。

目击排除了干预,苏珊·桑塔格在《论摄影》(1977)中写道。然而,目击的形式却依然主动活跃:倾听,重建,分享。在若安娜·阿德依托马斯与卡利·若列热的影像作品ISMYRNE (2006) 中,若安娜与诗人、画家伊黛尔·阿德楠(此次展览也囊括了她的绘画作品)试图重建一座名为士麦那的城市(如今位于土耳其西部的伊兹密尔),她们的家人都来自那里。若安娜与伊黛尔仔细欣赏着地图和照片,互相诉说她们彼此的家族故事,交换关于一个已经消失的地方的记忆。此次展览的其他几位艺术家也一道加入了她们,这些作品追溯着故土的历史、失落的遗迹,或者那些塑造童年与地域意识的故事。而一场主题围绕阿拉伯世界的艺术展览,势必会提出有关变迁与流动的疑问,现场的许多作品也聚焦于移民和他们在离开家园以后如何重建地域意识的话题。艺术家巴斯马·阿尔沙里夫出生在一个流亡中的巴勒斯坦家庭,她于2011 年创作的《奶与蜜的故事》试图讲述一个发生在黎凡特的爱情故事—艺术家希望这份爱恋不受任何政治的影响,而这一不可能的任务成为这件从虚构快速转换到现实生活中的细腻作品想要探讨的主题。

展览“从耳朵到耳朵再到眼睛”关注那些来自阿拉伯世界的声音与故事,而音乐作为一种文化共享的形式在阿拉伯世界引起了广泛的共鸣。茱玛纳·曼娜在2015 年创作了《一种神奇的物质流入我的体内》,艺术家在作品中将人种音乐学家罗伯特·拉赫曼的电台节目《东方音乐》选段分别播放给带有库尔德人、撒玛利亚人、巴勒斯坦人与塞法迪犹太人背景的音乐家。当这些人和艺术家一起聆听音乐时,他们的互动显得格外私人化:受访者们向曼娜娓娓道来传统与回忆;他们共同思考着地域本土文化那个早已失效的形象,而这种失效是双重的—播放给他们的录音可以追溯至20 世纪20 至30 年代,这些录音的创造者拉赫曼是一名德裔犹太人,曾学习法语和阿拉伯语及其文化。第一次世界大战期间,在担任某个战俘营的同声传译时,巴赫曼对东方音乐产生了兴趣。

这些在曼娜的长篇影像中叠接的历史浓缩了展览通过作品选择想要传达的讯息:没有任何一个单一的叙事是完整的,目击是一个连续的叙事。发生在中东的一切都不仅仅局限于该地区,巴以冲突是各个政府和宗教组织凭借影响力施加国际性推拉的结果,而在叙利亚的流血冲突中,冷战思维主导的力量仍在以牺牲平民为代价争夺权力,大量难民不得不逃亡欧洲寻求庇护。因此,将全球政治解析为清晰易懂、引人共鸣的个体故事,是近年来关于中东艺术的其他展览所公认的策略,尤其是纽约新当代艺术博物馆在2014 年举办的展览“这里和其他地方”。的确,“从耳朵到耳朵再到眼睛”没有让观众感觉到过多不适,故事引人入胜,音乐在展厅内回荡(还有一些人在跳舞),但展览并未允许观众待在安全范围之内。如何让身处英格兰北部某个当代艺术空间内的观众感受一个在日常对话中频繁出现的地域?且不可否认的是,这个地域对他们而言确凿无疑的遥远,充满了种种误解。策展人山姆·泽恩决定重点关注探索声音和倾听的作品,以此来为这个看似无法解决的疑问提供两种答案。展览首先声明,从新闻到艺术,反映在诸多陈词滥调的图像中的历史,可以通过这样一种截然不同的方式加以呈现:诉诸基于时间的媒介,而非单一的图像。其次,展览的重点落于倾听,它使观众的身体产生亲密感与移情效应,同时使得观众能够对这段历史形成复杂的看法, 正如展览标题所暗示的那样:看似诗意的事物或许鲜血淋漓。

黑格·艾维安2016 年的艺术项目《我生病了,但是我还活着》则进一步探索了音乐与民族认同之间的关系。作品围绕着土耳其裔美国人乌迪·赫兰特·肯库里安的故事发展起来,这位乌德琴匠人是土耳其音乐的先驱,后者融合了奥斯曼音乐与西方古典音乐,被土耳其共和国视为新生的现代国家的标志。在创作于2014 年的作品《太空废墟》中,雷德·亚辛讲述了一个亦真亦假的故事,他在eBay 上发现了一卷别人丢弃的录音带,其中的 内容有关埃及流行巨星乌姆·库勒苏姆于1968 年曾在一家韩国电台举行的不具名表演。这是一个足够好的故事,它让你想要相信你无法证实的事情—直到你记起证据能够引发改变。

劳伦斯·阿布·哈姆丹的作品《听力所及之范围》是展览中观众遭遇的第一件作品,这件由声音、影像与数据构成的装置想象了两名以色列士兵经历的审判,2004 年,他们遭指控在“被占领土”区枪杀了两名巴勒斯坦少年。阿布·哈姆丹与伦敦大学金史密斯学院的法证建筑研究所合作,对记录在案的枪声进行了声学分析,这两位士兵先前声称自己使用的是橡胶子弹,但结果证明,他们的说法完全不可信。法证建筑的一个分支机构法证海洋学则于展览中呈现了作品《液体痕迹—一条弃之于死的船》, 这份包含影像、声音、采访、地图、照片与其他档案材料的视觉报告记叙了一桩悲剧:2011 年,的黎波里与意大利兰佩杜萨岛之间,一艘载着72 名难民的救生艇耗尽了燃料,在世界上遭受监视最为严格的水域漂流了两个星期。这艘破旧不堪的救生艇在意大利、马耳他和北约组织控制的各个搜救区内无望地辗转徘徊, 没有得到任何援助。这场危机在地中海制造的麻烦并不亚于东欧已经遭遇的种种,法证海洋学的作品证实了在难以想象的难民危机面前,欧盟遭受束缚与限制的行动力和同情心。

目击行为具有法律内涵,也具有道德内涵。出现在此次展览中的作品不仅让政治、历史或地域变得相关,它们还为展览添加了大量的声音、故事与话语。美术馆的楼梯依傍着一座小山而建, 建筑必须在山体和墙面之间留出一个跨越三层楼的狭窄空间。这里属于马拉克·海姆的声音装置《漂流音乐》(2013)。一段长达42 分钟的音景标记了埃及境内一些具有重要历史意义的地点(一个迁徙的港口,一处战场,一座计划在造的核电站)。海姆本想用信鸽将这些录音送给一位失去的恋人,但2013 年发生的军事政变阻挠了他的计划。多年前的遥远的风声传入耳际,这声音使我们顿悟,冲突的经历总归是个人的。人们依然会在战乱时期坠入爱河,几乎无法解释,但又注定成真。我们的生活复杂而多面,提醒一下,每个人的故事都值得倾听。