Compulsory * Complaint 2

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, The witness-Machine Complex, 2021

While I research the example for the role of the listener, I found Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s artwork. It draws the role of interpretation and intervention during testimony. In his work, Abu Hamdan represents the historical scene in the Nuremberg trials in 1945–46. This trial was the first trial that uses a simultaneous translation system in the world. In this trial, simultaneous interpreters are nowhere to be seen. Yet their presence was captured by the flashing yellow and red lights built into the witness stand and the prosecutor’s podium, which were used to slow down or pause the speed of the sound flowing into their headphones. (“The witness-machine complex(2021)”, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, These lights interfere with and control witness statements in many ways.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan mentions “[t]here’s an exchange that begins with a Russian witness named Jakov Gregorvion, […] He’s asked where he comes from, and the follow-up question is “Does that village still exist?,” and the answer is “No, it does not exist.” And then the yellow light goes off. Already, it’s weird, and immediately the judge tells him to slow down. So this strange and frank detail, which contains a huge amount of violence, is immediately kind of overwritten by the light, by the way, the court makes a demand on the voice and what it needs to sound like. When the yellow light flashes a second time, he freezes for over a minute, his testimony entirely derailed. In another instance, Marie Vaillant-Couturier responds to the yellow light by altering her speech to an incredibly robotic staccato […].” (McHugh, Camila. “Lawrence Abu Hamdan on Translation, Nuremberg, and the Juridical Unconscious.” The Online Edition of Artforum International Magazine, 12 Oct. 2021, l-unconscious-86875)

Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s work reveals the violence of being interrupted to testify. If someone’s testimony can be influenced by the light of a machine that’s regarded as neutral and emotionless, then how can a human – regarded as a subjective – tune in to the speaker better? Furthermore, what does ‘neutral’ mean? Should a person who has the power to listen exercise “neutrality” as emotionless? I would say no.

The role of listening should not be an appraiser, also that doesn’t mean they should be a saviour. Instead, it has to be an alliance so that they could pull together throughout the whole process of complaining to protest. This non-vertical relationship is woven and formed based on listening and understanding. Thus, let’s start to imagine a cord that is made of sturdy trust and patience weaved together. Remember, you can’t weave a cord with a single strand. Two strands have to be twisted together. The code that we made together like this could be the last hope we can hold and help the complaint to get out from the bottom of the sea like a rope. Or this code can be the link that allows complaints to reach us.

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