Trace Evidence

For our 31st screening, Lawrence Abu Hamdan brings us Trace Evidence from Susan Schuppli. A video trilogy exploring the appearance of nuclear evidence, Trace Evidence focuses on three events: the unearthing of ancient nuclear reactors at the uranium mine site in Oklo, Gabon in 1972; the discovery of Chernobyl’s airborne contaminates at the Forsmark power plant in Sweden in April 1986; and the 7600 kilometre five year journey of Caesium-137 from Fukushima-Daiichi through the waters of the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Through the screening of Trace Evidence and the subsequent discussion, this event seeks to explore the ways in which materials carry “trace evidence” of their encounters with external, often violent events. It also asks how we might in turn, go about extracting the testimonial from the trace?

Within environmental justice work, establishing the incontrovertible relationship between cause and effect has proven a difficult legal challenge. The spatial dispersal of contaminants and temporal latency of their material and biological effects, which may take years, even decades to emerge, has allowed global climate-change actors and states to operate with virtual impunity. But the nuclear isn’t like other complex, non-linear events. Despite its radical and covert nature, the unique signature and behaviour of radioactive isotopes allows its lethal traces to be tracked directly back to their source, re-connecting the evidential links that planetary phenomena has seemingly torn apart.

This film by Susan Schuppli, proposes a break with historiography by historicising a gap in history; the 19 days between the material effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and its international mediation. This 19 day gap is a subject matter that allows Schuppli’s film to work at the threshold of visibility; forcing its audience to expand the limits of seeing and for many of us for the first time see the world through the lens of a gamma camera. This 19 day gap is a methodology through which we can clearly see that the divide between material facts and their immaterial mediation is the site of a political struggle. In inhabiting this divide this film becomes a methodological example for the much needed creation of pathway between the cognitive and physical visions of reality.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan is an artist, “private ear” and fellow at the Vera list centre for Art and Politics at the New School, New York. His projects have taken the form of audiovisual installations, performances, graphic works, photography, Islamic sermons, cassette tape compositions, potato chip packets, essays, and lectures. Abu Hamdan’s interest with sound and its intersection with politics originate from his background in DIY music. He has made audio analyses for legal investigations at the UK asylum Tribunal and advocacy for organizations such as Amnesty International–and Defence for Children International. The artist’s forensic audio investigations are conducted as part of his research for Forensic Architecture at Goldsmiths College London where he is also a PhD candidate. Abu Hamdan’s Rubber Coated Steel 2016 won the short film award at the Rotterdam International Film festival 2017 and his exhibition Earshot at Portikus Frankfurt (2016) was the recipient of the 2016 Nam June Paik Award. Other solo exhibitions include taqiyya at Kunsthalle St Gallen (2015), Tape Echo (2013) at Beirut in Cairo and Van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven, The Freedom Of Speech Itself (2012) at Showroom, London, The Whole Truth (2012) at Casco, Utrecht. Abu Hamdan’s writing can be found in Forensis Sternberg press, Manifesta Journal and Cabinet Magazine. His works are part of collections at MoMA New York, Van AbbeMuseum Eindhoven, Centre Pompidou Paris and the Arts Council, England.