Exhibition: NTU CCA presents Tarek Atoui

Tarek Atoui’s exhibition is a library of soundscapes

Apr 08, 2018 | By Mary Ann Lim

Combining the oblique processes of documentation and experience through sound, Tarek Atoui’s solo exhibition at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art (NTU CCA) is a unique composition that interweaves objects, instruments, and recordings. Entitled ‘The Ground: From the Land to the Sea’, it is the first large-scale exhibition that Atoui has created and is currently running from 24 March to 24 June 2018.

Tarek Atoui, ‘I/E’ (recordings in Athens), 2015, documentation. Copyright Alexandre Guirkinger.

The exhibition’s materials are a culmination of several preceding projects. Specifically, most of the instruments presented are taken from ‘The Ground’ project, Atoui’s five-year-long investigation of natural cycles in the Pearl River Delta. The main exhibition is also complemented by another previous project, ‘I/E’ which is ongoing from 2015, and envelopes the main exhibition space with the sounds of harbours from Athens and Abu Dhabi. Alongside several other instruments from past projects, the ensemble of unconventional accoutrements is further enriched in this latest showing with new additions. Ranging from a set of porcelain and ceramic discs upon which traditional Arabic rhythms are engraved, to a customised record player that rotates at irregular speeds, the aural experience transcends space and traverses across a myriad of auditory landscapes.

It is no wonder that Atoui’s work takes on evolutionary processes, where he builds upon the sound collection constantly. A special feature is his charting of soundscapes from Singapore’s waterfront sites and islands together with composer and sound artist Éric La Casa. The recording processes in Singapore took both Atoui and La Casa to various Singaporean shorelines, such as Jurong Fishery Port, Palau Sebarok and on an oil tanker. During these trips, the duo captured the acoustic features of these environs, both underwater and on land with devices such as a recorder, hydrophone, contact microphones, and self-made omnidirectional microphones. The resulting sounds picked out were thus represented authentically in their diverse forms: as vibrations, audible noise, and inaudible audio waves.

Tarek installing. Image courtesy NTU CCA Singapore.

Rather than mere documentation, Atoui’s auditory library was created with reference to the emergence of acoustic ecology and its pertinent concerns. By surveying the landscapes through intermingling sounds on land and in the water, he attempts to understand and analyse characteristics of sonic environments such as geological formations, organisms, and human interactions. Through artistic appropriation by means of composition and juxtaposition, Atoui weaves complex and nuanced narratives about the ecology of our times. Setting the auditory library within a “white cube” space that is the NTU CCA exhibition hall, the audience is transported into an immersive audio-visual topography and at once become both observers and participants of the installation.

Tarek Atoui, ‘I/E’ (recordings in Athens), 2015, documentation. Copyright Alexandre Guirkinger.

The creation and tracing of soundscapes is not confined to just Atoui alone however. At the core of his practice lies an ongoing process of inviting other composers, musicians, and artists to collaborate with him by contributing new ideas, gestures and experiences. For the purposes of this exhibition, Atoui has engaged with both local and international musicians by inviting them to intervene in the exhibition space and his composition. These musicians include various acclaimed sound artists, musicians Vivian Wang and Yuen Chee Wai, as well as music curator Mark Wong. In turn, these musicians will invite other musicians and sound artists to contribute to the exhibition. By opening up the composition to various authors, the conversations that emerge from the installation space will contribute to an endless repository of sound that continuously unfolds.

Tarek Atoui, ‘The Reverse Collection’, 2014-16, Tate Modern London 2016 installation view. Courtesy the artist and Tate Modern.

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