Air Pressure (A diary of the sky)
Air Pressure (A diary of the sky) is a work by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, third recipient of the Future Fields Commission in Time-Based Media, a joint initiative by Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On the occasion of the exhibition curated by Irene Calderoni a Amanda Sroka, the artist engages in conversation with our Editor of New Media Special Projects Giulia Colletti.
Giulia Colletti: The project Air Pressure (A diary of the sky) is an iteration of your research on the agency of listening. You act as a “private ear” at the service of the residents of Lebanon to reverberate their state of unsafety, due to the exposure to Israeli military aircrafts. In a counter action against such an indiscriminate violation and surveillance protracted for 15 years, your attempt is to make air invasions audible. Can you expand on the paradigm adopted in retrieving, collecting, and audio-visualizing such an amount of information?
Lawrence Abu Hamdan: Mock raids – which occur when a military aircraft fly over a country to instill fear through noise – is not new. In Lebanon we found records of mock raids by the Israeli airforce dating back to 1949. The episodes keep increasing over time. Air Pressure (A diary of the sky) has an essential question at the core: how do you speak about something exceptional yet integrated into daily life? It is a cumulative matter. This is why Air Pressure (A diary of the sky) takes the diary as a narrative form. A diary is a mode of literature that puts side by side the most significant and insignificant aspects of human life.
GC: The information of such raids is available at airpressure.info.
LAH: Correct. The website has all of the most important information in there for anyone to use as a resource. Though one can search for every raid by the minute, the aircraft and its trajectory, it is designed to reveal a constant pressure from above making people live in a condition where they are not sure what will happen the next day. The noise of raids is a reminder that they can strike at any time, it happens in the present, yet these sounds are a theft of one’s future. That sound in the air is actually discouraging you not to plan anything e.g., invest in property, plan your wedding, start your own business, because at any minute it can be all taken away.
GC: The countless documentation spans from letters on the UN Digital Library to witnesses records. How did you deal with such multivocal archives?
LAH: As you mentioned, the project takes its cue from two mains sources: the official radar information from the UN and social media and online documentation. From the radar information we can glean technical information but from the videos and social media we get a sense of what it is like to live with those sounds. On the website there is a section called On the Ground, dedicated to the discussions, videos, and social media stuff, allowing to dive into the matter from that perspective. What is fascinating about these videos is they capture people actively intending to record the sounds of these jets while on the very same recording , we hear people talking and life resuming amongst these noises. These are paradoxical modes of attention that are documented, we record people listening and not listening to these sounds, both those modes of attention that treat these sounds as either ignorable or exceptional are articulate about the experience of living under this cloud of jet noise.
GC: In the performance Daght Jawi presented in the brutalist architecture of Sharjah’s Flying Saucer last year, you admit that in the attempt to produce clarity there is a risk in becoming yourself “an agent of the political ecology of noise”. What are the implications of becoming part of the noise one is trying to decode?
LAH: As much as Air Pressure (A diary of the sky) is about the politics of noise. While the website brings discursive value to the Israeli incursions of Lebanon and what it means to live under pressure, the audio video installation presented at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo reflects on the politics of noise more broadly, its weaponisation, its use as a force of obfuscation, and it even tries to chart that fine line when data or facts become themselves a kind of noise. As an. Investigator of the noise, I have to see myself as an integral part of its operation.
GC: Can you expand on this?
LAH: Let me give you an example. Due to government embezzlement and corruption , there is very little electricity provided by the Lebanese state. This means a vast increase in the use of diesel generators to power homes and neighbourhoods. These generators occupy the same bandwidth of frequencies and sonic intensity as the fighter jets. At some point does not tell what was the sound of a fighter jet and what was a generator. This is a sample of the ways in which I was looking at noise coalesce: two lethal entities, enemy invasion and state sanctioned corruption mask each other both are expropriating the air around us. It was important rather than to isolate them to see this confusion of generative of the ways in which sectarian and militarist power is exerted.
GC: Such noises can slowly kill you. In fact, you once referred to the study that German scientist Hartmut Ising conducted in Israel on the fighter jet noise impact on health. Investigating the effects of noise of low-flying military jet aircraft from an epidemiological perspective, he revealed a traumatic causal relation between health issues – such as subjective annoyance, casual blood pressure and ear symptoms – and the extended exposure to aerial warfare.
LAH: Yeah, but we should not forget that certain conditions cannot be isolated.
GC: What do you mean?
LAH: When I released airpressure.info, the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs got in touch. They wanted me to work with them to study the health effects of these jets and drones. Though there is evidence from studies in Isreal and Okinawa that these sounds do cause increased cortisol levels, heart rate, and blood pressure my question to them was what will give you a heart attack first, an Israeli jet in the air or that you lost your entire life savings to a thieving Ponzi scheme set up by the government? This is not said to displace the accountability of these mock raids away from the Israeli air force, but to see their strategy as an insidious way of accelerating an already existent collapse.
GC: The scale is beyond imagination and demands other forms of sensory capacity to make visceral those numbers. Is it why you project the film onto a screen inclined over audience’s heads?
LAH: Yeah, I think it is about upending assumptions, such as having the projector (which is normally up in the air) on the ground instead or the screen (which normally artists consider an apparatus to make disappear) landing on the viewer. The screen is made from sewn oil cloth to recall Svetlana Alexievich’s Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II, where a Zania Selina describes the planes raid as the sound of oil cloth tearing. I wanted the viewer to perceive the sutures and the folds of the screen. The grain of the image is essential to reflect on the surface of the sky: that the sky is not a distant horizon but a tangible and orchestrated ceiling above our heads.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Air Pressure (A diary of the sky)
Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin
3 November 2022 – 26 March 2023
Courtesy the artist
Photo: Sebastiano Pellion Di Persano