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Lawrence Abu Hamdan

45th Parallel

Lawrence Abu Hamdan

45th Parallel

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 45th Parallel (2022). Installation view, Spike Island. Courtesy the artist, photograph by Dan Weill



Lawrence Abu Hamdan is a Private Ear: a detective of sounds and their traces. His new film commission, 45th Parallel, focuses on the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, a unique municipal site that straddles the jurisdictions of Canada and the United States.

Built by the Haskell family in 1904, the site was originally constructed to provide education and cultural enrichment to the border communities located on the 45th parallel in Rock Island, Quebec and Derby Line, Vermont. A thick black line demarcating the border runs through the entire building, dividing the library collections and creating the only cross-border theatre in the world, where the audience and actors are in different countries.

Filmed on location, 45th Parallel activates this unique site’s legal and symbolic potential. The work is structured as a monologue in four acts, performed by acclaimed film director Mahdi Fleifel. The story centres on Hernández vs Mesa, a judicial case covering the fatal, cross-border shooting of an unarmed fifteen-year-old Mexican national in 2010 by a US Border Patrol agent.

In 2019, the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of Mesa—the border agent—claiming that, as the firearm was discharged on US soil and the murder of Hernández took place in Mexico, the guard could not be prosecuted in the US. Supreme Court judges were fearful that Mesa’s bullet could implicate drone strikes in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia and Libya. The work temporarily suspends us in a parallel world where the one vote that stood between justice for Hernández and the thousands like him killed across the border, went the other way.

Each act is demarcated by a scenographic change in the hand-painted backdrop on the Opera House stage. First, we see the original backdrop of a picturesque Venice canal, followed by two newly commissioned scenes that are part of the installation. One references a 1920 painting by British artist Richard Carline (1898–1980) of an aerial view of Damascus and its surrounding landscape, and the other the concrete culvert in El Paso-Juárez where the 2010 cross-border shooting took place.

Together the film and installation render the Haskell Free Library and Opera House as a grey zone, continually recasting the border as at once powerful yet superficial, absurd yet lethal.

Video still: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 'A speculative portrait (for a boy who returned without his face)

Performance: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, 'Natq'

Join us for a live audio-visual essay on the politics and possibilities of reincarnation, performed by Lawrence Abu Hamdan.

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“Articulating the border's claim to abstraction through embodied human presence” – Jonah Goldman Kay, Artforum (January 2023)

“Citations of court documents, media reports and military histories abound in 45th Parallel, manifesting both as metaphor for and material trace of a struggle over contested truths.” – Chris Hayes, Burlington Magazine (December 2022)

“45th Parallel theatrically maps out, through affective performance and imagery, the complicated dimensions of what a border truly is.” – Frank Wasser, Flash Art (November 2022)


Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Lawrence Abu Hamdan (b.1985, Amman, Jordan). His audio investigations have been used as evidence at the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and as advocacy for organisations such as Amnesty International. He has exhibited at the 58th Venice Biennale; the 11th Gwanju Biennale; the 13th and 14th Sharjah Biennial; Witte De With, Rotterdam; Tate Modern Tanks, London; Chisenhale Gallery, London;  Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Portikus Frankfurt; The Showroom, London; and Casco, Utrecht. His works are part of collections at MoMA; Guggenheim, (both New York); Van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and Tate Modern, London. As part of a temporary collective with nominated artists Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani, he was awarded the 2019 Turner Prize.


Partners and Supporters

Commissioned by Spike Island, Bristol; the Toronto Biennial; Mercer Union, Toronto; and the Western Front, Vancouver. Produced by LONO Studio and supported by Arts Council England and JustFilms/ Ford Foundation.

The exhibition is part of the West of England Visual Arts Alliance programme, supported by Arts Council England.

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