“Whisper cube, sound, 5,000 chip bags, various objects,” are the materials listed for Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Armory commission, A Convention of Tiny Movements. On view at Istanbul’s Galeri NON as part of the 2015 Armory Focus: Middle East, North Africa, and the Mediterranean (Focus: MENAM), visitors are lured in with bags of potato chips that look, as a gallery assistant concurred, “super dystopian.”
Next to nutrition facts and an incongruously wholesome “The Chip Starts Here” tag, each mirrored bag contains the following information:
When your voice is propelled from your mouth through the air, it hits the objects in your vicinity and causes tiny vibrations on the surfaces of those objects. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a group of pioneering computer scientists have shown that, by using the high-speed video of an object, they can extract those minute vibrations and partially recover the sound that produced them. This allows them the capacity to turn everyday objects—a glass of water, a potted plant, a box of tissues, and most faithful of all a bag of chips—into a listening device, or what they call visual microphones.
This technology, also known as “voice stress analysis,” captures the micro-vibrations of human vocal chords and can determine if someone is telling the truth based on micro-fluctuations. The entire project encompasses an audio dispatch from 2017 presented in a whisper cube, a series of varied objects scattered throughout the fair, and as I’ve repeated several times, THE CHIP BAG.
Innocent art aficionados, this is the future. Hamdan’s work asks us to consider how mundane objects might become the weapons of a totalitarian government, a world in which “we have to think carefully of the sonic footprint we leave behind,” as the press release warns. Who is the subject, and who is the object?
The chips were pretty decent, though. Silver lining?
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