Art Review: From Ear to Ear to Eye at Nottingham Contemporary

8 February 18 words: Chloé Rose Whitmore

Featuring work from almost twenty artists and researchers, this exhibition tells stories from across the Arab world. Through photography, sculpture, music and video, the artists paint a picture of countries with a fierce, independent identity, both separate from and entwined with the violent depictions we see in the media...

Setareh Shahbazi, Spectral Days, 2013 and Something Always Falls, 2015/16. Courtesy the artist and Gypsum Gallery. Installation shot, From Ear to Ear to Eye, Nottingham Contemporary, Dec 2017-Mar2018.Photo StuartWhipps.

In our mainstream media, it’s rare to hear about the Arab world without an accompaniment of violent images. We’re given the impression that it’s merely a place of rubble and smoke, of unimaginable losses and inconceivable hurt. But behind these harrowing pictures, there are millions of different voices waiting to be heard; folk music, whispered stories, laughter. That’s what the pictures in the news don’t show us. That’s what the From Ear to Ear to Eye works to change.

As you enter the first gallery, you see Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Earshot. Or, rather, you’ll hear it. Hanging in the middle of the room, a small screen plays a video telling the story of two unarmed teenagers who were fatally shot by Israeli soldiers. As a ‘private ear’, Abu Hamdan was a crucial part of the investigation into this crime, producing spectrograms that visualised the sound frequencies of the event. These huge, colourful spectrograms hang around the screen, almost as an imposing reminder that sight is often unreliable; to really understand something, you must listen.

Sectioned off behind a dark curtain hides Joe Namy’s video piece, titled Purple, Bodies in Translation. The immersive installation tells the story of two translators working in Syria, and explores the richness and vibrancy of the colour purple through fragments of poetry, songs and essays. The haunting videos are shown on a huge mirrored screen, so you can see yourself reflected amongst the subtitles.

One video discusses the complexity of the subtitling: that the gravity of a sound, such as a laugh before a gunshot or the fierceness in someone’s voice, cannot be accurately portrayed through words. However, the lyrical and emotive language used acts as a reminder of just how powerful words can be.

The second gallery holds a further selection of film, photography and prints by a variety of artists. Perhaps the most striking in this room is Satareh Shahbazi’s Spectral Days, a selection of prints inspired by old family photographs. These huge colourful prints cover a large portion of one of the gallery walls, showing a fragmented look into the artist’s early childhood, before her family were exiled from Iran.

In the final gallery, you’ll find A Stage For Any Sort Of Revolutionary Play; a display of plaster sculptures by Jumana Manna. Featuring a variety of body-like vessels in a mixture of blues, off-whites and burnt yellows, she uses these curvaceous vessels to explore the idea that sound is intruding: it has the power to fill your whole body.

With feature-length films, music and an array of colourful artwork, From Ear to Ear to Eye is an exhibition you could spend hours absorbing and still not feel that you’ve seen it all. By scraping the surface and delving into the depths of the Arab world, the artists have created an incredibly important and relevant collection of art that highlights the stories we don’t hear in the news. It’s a collection stamped with poetry.

From Ear to Ear to Eye runs at Nottingham Contemporary until Sunday 4 March, and it’s free to view.

Nottingham Contemporary website

Lawrence Abu Hamden, Earshot, 2016. Courtesy Maureen Paley, London. Installation shot, From Ear to Ear to Eye, Nottingham Contemporary, Dec 2017-Mar2018.Photo StuartWhipps.

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