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An experience of Tarek Atoui’s Waters’ Witness performances and installation at Mudam.

  • Review
  • Oct 24 2022
  • Elisa Fuenzalida
    is a researcher and cultural worker. She has directed research projects such as El futuro era tu cuerpo, Ensamblajes del Cuidado and Afectos en Re-existencia. She is coordinator and co-curator of the Cátedra Decolonial Anibal Quijano at the Museo Reina Sofía, co-editor of the journal Arts of the Working Class and mediator in the citizen laboratory platform Redes por el Clima.

All things maintain a dialogue with all things, the rivers with the plants, with the breakers, with the deserts, with the stones, with the stars […] Everything is a great conversation, a mutual gaze. (1)


Tarek Atoui understands sound as a learning experience, a force that overflows the grammars of control; in his work, the parameters that a computer tracks when reading code are more than a translation tool. It could be a paradoxical formulation, except that through this tension arises one of his most interesting contributions: his practice creates the conditions for listening to a sound, but also the conditions for that sound to listen. At this point, to speak of process over outcome would be to incur a cliché of the highest degree, were it not for the fact that these invitations still cause outrage in the hard cores of practice. Even in the noise scenes. A signal can become conscious, in the sense that consciousness can be “absorbed” by matter, is an almost esoteric hint to Cartesian minds. Can sound be a subject?

From his paradigmatic performance Metastable Circuit (2012), in dOCUMENTA (13), it is abundantly clear that his intentions could not be further from the desire to extract a system of “objective” parameters from the sound that dominates a large part of the European sonic scene. What the trajectory of his work shows, which articulates the exhibition dimension with the performative and pedagogical, is an intense search for sensitive keys to the exploration of subjectivity. Hence his interest in opening the composition and sonic phenomena to a visual and tactile experience that surpasses the aural dimension, enabling spaces of connection with functional diversities and a wide spectrum of forms of listening and non-listening. Along this line, assemblages that combine the installation with the laboratory, such as WITHIN / Infinite Ear (2016) where, in collaboration with sound engineers, luthiers, and deaf and non-deaf students and volunteers, the diversities of hearing are exhaustively explored. Atoui has spent years (materially) elaborating sound processes which, by intersecting with the radical presence of other physicalities (buildings, instruments, people) generate what I’d like to name here as forces

Waters’ Witness, installed and performed at Mudam during the Nuit des Musées of Luxembourg, is a compendium of the artist's inquiries, based on years of recording port cities in dialogue with the material that makes up their memories: building materials, massive metal rails, and marble rocks. In the installation, the instruments he’s created are activated by the field recordings, and the museum space turns into one of the conditions of resonance along with the materials themselves, including us, as bodies. In this closeness, which insists on confronting the human witness with both the sound and the sources of sound, not only does a process of conscious accessibility open up the routes Atoui has traversed as luthier, musician, and listener, but the living condition of all that is evoked is also stirred.

Why do clubs have to be the only public dance spaces? Why dance, and not just shake or shiver? The installation was activated through two performative moments in collaboration with Berlin-based musician and producer Ziúr. Together, they created a complex of sound textures as challenging as they are magnetic. Ziúr is a cult artist on certain edges of the Berlin club scene, but for all those beings outside of noctambulism, seeing them operating in a “museistic” context is ultimately a strange interpellation. You have to take a leap of faith, and even if for a moment you might feel strange not looking at the artists as if they were a movie, closing your eyes and opening your chest in a space so white, so illuminated, so… museum-like, the only thing that makes sense is to expose yourself to the sound in a way that can be very healing, even for the people who look at you in confusion, as if the acceptable thing to do is to restrain yourself for even trying. 

Tarek Atoui’s work comprehensively answers the questions of what listener and what conditions of listening traverse sound and its vibrations. In so doing, he necessarily interpellates institutions and the performativities that block or enable the scenarios they create, not only from their spatial arrangement but also from their programming. It is always exciting to experience the disposition of an institution to a reordering of the codes and accesses of its structure. In the case of Mudam, being such a young museum for engaging with practices that not only subvert the very categories of the audience but also introduce a critique of the more ableist branches of artistic traditions, makes a statement in terms of what is meant by diversity policies. A museum should not only think in relation to its environment but seek to vibrate along with it.


Waters’ Witness will be performed on December 4th, in collaboration with Yann Leguay. More information, here.


Waters’ Witness was conceived by Tarek Atoui and produced by the Fridericianum in Kassel in cooperation with the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto and Mudam Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean. The exhibition at the Fridericianum was supported by the Hessische Kulturstiftung. A series of performances by Tarek Atoui and invited musicians, such as Ziúr, is programmed around the exhibition.


    (1) (Guzmán, P. 2015)

    Tarek Atoui, lives and works as an artist in Beirut and Paris. He has held solo exhibitions at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto (2022 and 2018); The Contemporary Austin (2022); Fridericianum, Kassel (2020); NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore (2018); Mirrored Gardens, Guangzhou (2017); Tate Modern, London (2016); Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2015) and Serpentine Gallery, London (2012). His work has been presented within significant group surveys including the 13th Gwangju Biennial (2021); Printemps de septembre, Toulouse (2018); the 58th Venice Biennale (2017); the 11th and 9th Sharjah Biennials (2013, 2009); and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel (2012). Atoui has been awarded with the 2022 Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize. He lives and works in Paris.


    Tarek Atoui-Ziur. © Fabrizio Vatieri.



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