"Listen!"Art The Oratory is one of Liverpool's hidden jewels. Sitting in the grounds of Liverpool Cathedral it must look like some old mausoleum, and only when it's open does it show its true purpose and if nothing else, the Biennial provides people with the opportunity to see inside for an extended period. Back in 2010, the Biennial held a press preview at the Oratory showcasing transcendent Laura Belem’s The Temple of a Thousand Bells, in which what must have been that many small, glass objects were hung from the ceiling whilst a story was told to us. That wasn't first visit. My first visit was part of the Art Collections project and you can find a detailed review of the statuary and the building's history on this very blog.
-- The Doctor, "Listen"
Although there's work from other artists around the edges of the interior of the kind which is threaded through all of the many venues, the key focus is on a giant flat screen television presenting Lawrence Abu Hamdan's Rubber Coated Steel, in which the artist (who we previously encountered in Derby Square) utilises the mechanism of a gun range to illustrate a subtitled but not heard transcript of a trial in which he successfully proved that two Palestinian boys were shot by real bullets rather than rubber rounds. As the visual evidence is presented to the court demonstrating the difference in sound between the two, they're brought forward on the clips usually filled with the targetable torso or else video footage.
The Biennial booklet suggests "it's a work about aesthetics, politics and the potential violence inherent in both noise and silence", which, I'd suggest, includes the inherent biases we have in interpreting both we see and more importantly hear. If we're conditioned to assume we're hearing a rubber bullet then that's what we'll hear. If it's a live round, then that instead. Those in the court admit that they can't tell the difference and without the sound wave patterns Hamdan submit, it wouldn't otherwise be clear at all. It's an enthralling piece which demands our patience, because we can only see the words of the court transcript and so we're constantly having to dart our eyes between what's being "said" and what's being "shown".
Not that I thought this first time around. As is often the case with video art, I can in the middle and didn't have an understand on the context. Plus three security guards were being shown around the building by a fourth and at the vital moment when the artist's own voice emerges from the speakers to provide some necessary context, the guard decided to raise his voice so he could be heard over the sound of the artwork. All of which distraction led me to feeling a certain tedium as the legalise played out. Like many of the Biennial presentations, there's a clear narrative which simply doesn't work if you enter in the middle. But after deciding to watch the whole piece again from the beginning, I managed to grasp what was being presented and was mesmerised.