Selected works from the Whitechapel galleries – November 2016

Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s ‘The All-Hearing’ (2014) was the first work I saw in the Barjeel Art Foundation Collection: Mapping the Contemporary II exhibition shown in gallery 7. In this short documentary piece Hamdan uncovers issues around noise pollution in Cairo, and focuses predominantly on the relationship between electronic technologies causing this problem and religious practice. In the video a religious speaker is shown to be condemning these technologies and those who use their potential to be speak louder than others and to disrupt neighbours. But there is irony to his whole speech as in the shots leading up to seeing the speaker standing above his congregation with microphone in hand we see shots from outside the mosque, where his speech can be heard. Another speaker describes how these technologies are making it difficult to pray as prayers and sermons from another mosque down the road can be clearly heard because the speakers are so loud. Hamdan also includes footage of the local shops that sell these audio technologies, showing the mass scale of production (the stacks of speakers) and the garish signs used to promote them.

I think it is important for me to consider the specificity of Hamdan’s subject, as it refers to a much wider field of interest (the way that technologies are effecting our senses) but is able to reveal and explore this through an example rather than the opposite (backing up the whole with examples), which is what I feel I have been attempting to do. So perhaps it would be beneficial for me to start documenting the issues I see and experience happening around me in a straightforward narrative approach.

Also in this exhibit was Sophie Al-Maria’s ‘Class A’ which was somewhat hidden in the space in comparison to Hamdan’s video work. It was the use of sound and found footage used in this work that I felt was important to consider in sight of my own work, as well as the beautiful monitor it was displayed on. The work flicks between two sources, a TV interview and ambiguous footage of a figure whilst strange and eerie noises creep through the headphones.

Sophia Al-Maria – still from ‘Class A’ 2014

My main reason for visiting Whitechapel had been to see the Guerrilla Girls show ‘Is it even worse in Europe?’ Unfortunately I found this room full of statistics and capital letters to be quite disappointing. The huge book archiving the emails sent out to galleries and museums was interesting to flick through, but if anything it made these institutions seem reasonable and the Guerrilla Girls come across bitter and biased. For example one gallery calls them out on their questioning of the sexuality of the artists they represent, saying that they don’t gather that information because it is not the business of the institution. Surely it is this equality that we are fighting for? Although, as a female artist I obviously think it is important for there to be a fair representation of all artists, I often feel as though the Guerilla Girls go about this in the wrong way. I was interested to look at the ambitiousness of their work because of the ‘LIGHTS LEFT ON’ and ‘NO SHAVE NO SHAME’ projects that I am working on but I do not feel like the activism represented here is the route that I want to go down as it seems like another form of left wing propaganda.

Guerrilla Girls – Installation view at Whitechapel

Gallery 2 was occupied by Alicja Kwade’s installation ‘Medium Median’. In the centre of this space a delicate metal mobile revolves elegantly holding tens of touch screen phones, all showing a 360 GPS orientated display of the universe. The voice of Siri can be heard reading passages from genesis, this is unnerving in the dark space permeated only by the light of the screens and spot lights illuminating the abstract bronze sculptures lining the room. The direction and speed of the mobile changes frequently, so the sculpture itself is constantly in a state of flux, making it impossible to ever really comprehend the infinity of the space that the screens are showing us. This work explores the ability of technology and science to demonstrate the scale of the universe and existance, creating a spiritual and calming experience, but also one that you are constantly aware is fabricated and false. This was by far the most exciting work I saw at the Whitechapel and has left me with a lot to contemplate in terms of materials and process.

Alicja Kwade – ‘Median Medium’ Installation view