Waters’ Witness
Tarek Atoui

Artist and electroacoustic composer Tarek Atoui (Beirut, Lebanon, 1980) works with large-scale compositions based on his anthropological, ethnological, musicological and technical research. His exhibitions intersect installation, performance and lectures that apply processes unrelated to the classic notion of performance — from the point of view of both the performer and the audience — while suggesting visual, aural, tactile and somatic forms of experiencing sound.

Exhibition Waters’ Witness
Artists Tarek Atoui
Venue Serralves Museum and Park, Oporto, Portugal
All images Courtesy by the artist and Serralves Park

This first exhibition in Portugal is the outcome of I/E (Infinite Ear), a project ongoing since 2015, in which Atoui captures the sounds of port cities — Athens, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Beirut and Porto —, recording the industrial, human and ecological activities of their harbours to reveal and single out the multiple layered strata of every location in a process akin to sound archaeology. Working closely with Eric La Casa, an artist and sound recording specialist, the sounds recorded below the surface of the sea or within materials such as metal, stone and wood create an ongoing audio library: recordings of underwater areas, human and industrial activities, nature reserves, fish markets, military bases, oil tankers, are the result of this process. In collaboration with Alexandre Guirkinger, he has produced a parallel photographic archive of the seaports and their recording moments. According to Atoui’s perceptual findings, the ports of Athens and Porto are oneiric. The acoustics of their spaces and the resonance and vibration of sound in the air, water and different materials was nebulous, almost thick, misty and as if lined with cotton. In turn, Abu Dhabi was telluric, with bright, sharp and clear sounds.

The audio recordings of the Athens, Abu Dhabi and Porto seaports are now reproduced in the exhibition through a selection of materials chosen for each location: marble blocks for Athens, steel beams for Abu Dhabi and wooden structures containing compost, worms and organic matter for Porto. The work with decomposing organic matter, specifically produced for Serralves, was inspired by the acoustic of the harbour and the abundance of piles of industrial trash and detritus waiting to be exported to other countries.

Waters’ Witness is a soundscape that extends from the Museum’s central room out into the Park in the guise of sound constellations. In the installation’s central room, the audience is confronted with a circuit of instruments, cables and equipment that hide an intricate and meticulous system arranged by Atoui. In turn, this circuit connects to a spatialized composition played through excavated marble blocks, steel beams, and compost.
In the Serralves Park, these sound producing systems are located at Pátio da Adelina, where a sound installation resonates in the imposing magnolia that fills the physical space. Following along the avenue that crosses the cultivated fields, it is possible to glimpse and hear the Water Mirror, where Atoui extracts and expands the sound of water in the reservoir.

In the entire exhibition, Atoui uses sound as an embodied and transitory contact medium, inviting the viewer to act when confronted with these sound platforms like an instrument that crosses continual fluxes of echoes and associations. Spectators witness these quasi-animistic sounds by directly touching or sitting on marble blocks and vibrating steel beams. Sensitive to the passage of time, the installation’s soundscape undergoes alterations and transformation as it is made of living organisms liable to decomposition and where smell becomes a new sensorial element that now joins the repertoire of the project. The spaces and situations that Waters’ Witness create are ones of active listening, education, and performance.

An important current running along and across Atoui’s sound experimentations is collaboration. A great majority of his work involves and evolves through participation of others. These can be designers, builders, musicians, field recordist, listeners. It is often the case that his installations offer themselves as very direct relational platforms as they can be activated by the audiences and other artists. For Waters’ Witness in Serralves, sound artist Alan Affichard, a group of Portuguese musicians and artists as well as students from art schools, all are invited to interact and dialogue with the works installed. Along with collaborative and educational workshops, performances are organized throughout the entire period of the exhibition and artists able to engage with a diversity of sounds inhabiting the exhibition at different stages, progressing from the winter awakening up to its midsummer demise.

You may also like


Adelaide Cioni – Drawings for myself


Douglas Gordon – All I need is a little bit of everything


Alicia Frankovich – Spaces of Life


Theaster Gates – Hold Me, Hold Me, Hold Me