april, 2022

202209apr(apr 9)12:00 am14aug(aug 14)11:59 pmThe Contemporary Austin | 04/09/22 - 08/14/22 | THE WHISPERERS | TAREK ATOUI | Austin


April 9 (Saturday) 12:00 am - August 14 (Sunday) 11:59 pm


The Contemporary Austin



The Contemporary Austin 700 CONGRESS AVENUE AUSTIN, TEXAS 78701

Event Details

Art Exhibition |
The Contemporary Austin


Winner of the 2022 Suzanne Deal Booth / FLAG Art Foundation Prize, Tarek Atoui (Lebanese, born 1980 in Beirut) is a Paris-based artist and composer whose work explores the medium of sound. He begins by acknowledging that sound is not limited to the sense of hearing. Sound requires transmission through physical materials, within particular spatial and social environments, and in relation to our individual bodies. He asks questions such as: What happens to sound as it travels through materials like metal, wood, and water? How can we perceive sound by listening not only with our ears but also with our eyes, our fingers, our bones—our whole bodies?   
Atoui’s research and compositional process is highly collaborative and generates networks of community involvement. He works with other musicians, composers, and instrument makers around the world to develop custom materials he calls “tools for listening,” which conduct and amplify sounds in multisensory ways. In tandem with this process, he invites participation from people where his projects are located to involve musicians and non-musicians alike in creative explorations. For the project in Austin, three experimental musicians were invited for residencies within a lab prior to the exhibition opening. The residents experimented with materials Atoui provided alongside invited music collaborators and members of local youth organizations, generating community around the project and deepening its connection to Austin.

The exhibition comprises two installations, each occupying one floor of the Jones Center. On the first floor, Atoui presents his newest project, The Whisperers, which began as a series of workshops he conducted with his son’s kindergarten class in Paris. Together with this young audience, Atoui found ways to generate collective discoveries through four exploratory questions. How can we amplify spaces by using speakers and microphones immersed in solids, liquids, and gases? How can we create non-repetitive sounds using objects that rotate or spin? How can we use our bodies to articulate sounds through gestures and performance? How can we translate sounds into sources of motion and energy? From these inquiries, he developed The Whisperers, an ongoing project that explores sound transmissions in relation to material, space, motion, and perception.  

On the second floor, Atoui presents The Wave, an accumulation of projects he developed throughout the last decade, including WITHIN (2012–16), The Reverse Sessions / The Reverse Collection (2014–16), and The Ground (2017–18). Each project generated a series of custom instruments, which Atoui designed with teams of collaborators to explore specific questions. Developed together with Deaf and hard of hearing communities worldwide, the WITHIN instruments explore the relationship between sound and deafness and engage listening through the whole body. The Reverse Collection instruments evolved through layered investigations into the sounds of ancient instruments in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. The Ground evolved from Atoui’s extensive travel in southern China, where he investigated how traditional and contemporary agricultural practices might inform his compositional approach. The resulting composition in The Wave is a synthesis of knowledge and experiences, reflecting the interconnectivity of Atoui’s collaborative and ever-evolving practice.   

Atoui’s dynamic installations are both sound environments and spaces for activation through occasional live performances. Visitors are invited to explore the environments and attune their bodies to how sounds develop and interact in the spaces over time. In addition, throughout the exhibition’s duration, the three musicians-in-residence and their collaborators will periodically activate The Whisperers through scheduled performances and improvisational demonstrations. We encourage visitors to attend these events to experience the full range of the artist’s inquiries and to appreciate the community of collaborators involved in the project.

In conjunction with the exhibition, The Contemporary Austin has commissioned from Atoui a new outdoor sound installation, which will premiere at the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria in May. Using an assemblage of cisterns housing underwater microphones, the work will create a soundscape encouraging visitors to slow down and listen to the surrounding environment.

Tarek Atoui: The Whisperers will travel to The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, where it will be on view October 1 through December 10, 2022. An exhibition catalog co-published by The Contemporary, FLAG, and Radius Books is forthcoming in 2023.

This exhibition is funded by Suzanne Deal Booth and The FLAG Art Foundation.