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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Tarek Atoui: the Shore / a place I’d like to be – S.M.A.K. | 06.04.-25.08.2024

Editors’ Choice

S.M.A.K. Ghent in currently showing the exhibition the Shore / a place I’d like to be by the artist Tarek Atoui. Sound lies at the heart of the artistic practice of Tarek Atoui (b. 1980, Beirut, Lebanon). As an electro-acoustic composer and artist, Atoui is known for creating sonic-sculptural landscapes inspired by sound as well as images, matter, space, time, human actions and organic processes. Within these inventive listening environments, which appeal to more than just the ear, he creates rich experiences and interactions that carry sensory as well as socio-political meanings.

Image above: Tarek Atoui, The Organ Within, 2019, Performance at Guggenheim Museum (New York, USA) © Enid Alvarez

The meticulously designed musical instruments, listening devices, sculptures and objects in Tarek Atoui’s works are the result of detailed conceptual and technical processes. Drawing on deep research and experimentation, they bear the stamp of his collaborations with experts, craftsmen and other interested parties. Composed into fascinating, agile installations that interact with the context in which they are exhibited, they encourage activity in a myriad ways. Different things can happen in these non-hierarchical learning environments: a stand-alone musical composition might run or the instruments can be activated, either by professional musicians or during a guided visit. The installations might be the object of a participatory workshop. Visitors to the exhibition are gently prompted to listen to the space, to each other and to themselves.

DEEDS.NEWS - S.M.A.K. - Tarek Atoui - © Dirk Pauwels - 19
Tarek Atoui , © Dirk Pauwels, Courtesy S.M.A.K.

Tarek Atoui’s exhibitions have no fixed trajectories and do not depend on classical behavioural codes. The exploration of the space, observation of the exhibited artworks, and engagement with a succession of varied listening situations are all part of a network of sonic, sensory and human experiences, within which sound and listening are indivisibly connected. Musicians and visitors alike are encouraged to immerse themselves in this landscape and to surrender to the rhythms of the stimuli they encounter and the synergies that gradually form, all of which will flow through hands, eyes and ears.

By combining musical instruments, electronic devices and computers, as well as everyday objects, but also by experimenting with expanded forms of listening and concentration, Tarek Atoui confirms his engagement with political and social questions. From the very outset of his career, his practice has developed as a collective enterprise that breaks the traditional power relations between sense and reason, sensitivity and language, technology and craft. As an alternative, he simultaneously invokes perception, intuition, action, interpretation, memory and imagination as the catalysts for personal expression and identity formation.

For his first solo exhibition at a Belgian museum, Tarek Atoui brings together existing works and new productions in a carefully composed installation prompted by his unique understanding of deep listening, his attention to sensory perception and his socio-political motivation. The existing works are selected from larger projects like WITHIN (2013–ongoing), which proposes new ways of generating music, and The Whisperers (2021–2022), an exploration of how existing sounds change in relation to an array of materials, such as marble, glass, metal and water. Two new works, 66 Soft Cells and Windhouse #1, further expand the experiential and perceptual richness of the overall landscape

DEEDS.NEWS - S.M.A.K. - Tarek Atoui - © Dirk Pauwels - 8
Tarek Atoui , © Dirk Pauwels, Courtesy S.M.A.K.

Like the word ‘Shore’ in the title of the exhibition, which divides sea and land, Atoui creates the semblance of a dichotomy within the exhibition spaces at S.M.A.K. He alludes to two divergent realms, one a living room and the other an experimental laboratory, that continuously meet and merge on the site. Both relate to human activity, although they initially operate from opposite positions of rest and action, of familiarity and renewal, slowing down and accelerating, of personal encounters and automated networks. In this fluctuating environment, the artist inserts new objects that demand exploration but also includes a range of seats, plants, a library, and familiar objects like books and technical gadgets that the visitors can handle. Meanwhile, an extensive apparatus of computers and cables drives the audio installation, water bubbles up in a stone sculpture, and a visitor briefly disrupts the network by putting a record on a turntable. Here, how people play or appreciate sound is no longer dependent on a single form of knowledge, but on curiosity and a willingness to look at the world differently.

A series of performances by Tarek Atoui and invited musicians is programmed around the exhibition.

Tarek Atoui (b. 1980, Beirut, Lebanon) lives and works in Paris. He has participated in major international exhibitions over the past decade, including dOCUMENTA 13(2012) and the 58th Venice Biennale (2019). Solo exhibitions include IAC, Institutd’Art Contemporain, Lyon (2023); Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2023); Mudam Luxembourg–Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean (2022); the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto (2022 and 2018); The Contemporary Austin(2022); The FLAG Art Foundation, NewYork (2022); Bourse du Commerce–Pinault Collection, Paris (2021); Fridericianum, Kassel (2020); Sharjah Art Foundation,Sharjah (2020); NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (2018); Bergen Assembly (2016); Tate Modern, London (2016); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2015) and Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2014 and 2015).

Projects included in the exhibition:

DEEDS.NEWS - S.M.A.K. - Tarek Atoui - © Dirk Pauwels - 14
Tarek Atoui , © Dirk Pauwels, Courtesy S.M.A.K.

WITHIN (2013, on-going) is an anchor point in Tarek Atoui’s artistic practice. It has become fundamental to his understanding of sound and listening. The project explores how deafness can change our perception of the sound spectrum, as well as spaces for sound propagation and the potential of instruments. WITHIN seeks to extend notions of listening beyond the purely auditory to achieve sound factors with tactile, physical or visual origins, or which depart from gestures. The project calls many things into question: the act of listening itself; how instruments are designed and played; the conventional definitions of improvisation; the writing of musical scores; and audience relationships. Since the inception of WITHIN, Tarek Atoui has designed a series of twelve musical instruments aimed at both deaf and hearing people. These instruments have already been played by hundreds of professionals and amateurs. Their design and ‘playability’ are the result of workshops and collaborations between artists, instrument makers, students, deaf and hearing volunteers, as well as speakers, designers, sound engineers and educators. All of whom have contributed to the creation of this collection.

The Whisperers (2021-2022) is a series of listening devices made from different materials that conduct and amplify sound in a multi-sensorial way. These assemblages of plastic, wood, brass, water, bronze, glass and stone allow for experimentation with the acoustic properties of each material and how they transmit and reflect sound. The Whisperers are inspired by five educational workshop sessions with pupils from a kindergarten class at the École alsacienne in Paris between November 2020 and June 2021. The various experiments that took place during the sessions were synthesized into Whispering Playground. Various auditory sources and inputs (sounds relating to industry, water and percussion instruments, or those from vinyl records…) converge in an intricate circuit of water, sound and vibration. Designed for groups of 8 to 12 people, from 4 years old, the aim is to introduce participants to the concepts of vibration, underwater sound and rotation in an exploratory and playful way. A series of works specifically related to these experiences have been developed, including Drum Club, Jukebox, Platinum Record Player, Totem #1, Underwater Birds #2 and Whispered Pulse.

A special Dutch edition of the Whispering Manual will be published. This guide presents four experimental sound workshops designed by Tarek Atoui that explore the notions of vibration, water, rotation and wind. It is especially designed to enable teachers and educators to further develop these experiments in listening and collective improvisation.


Saturday, 6. April 2024 until Sunday, 25. August 2024

Openong hours:
Tue-Fri: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm
Every first Thursday of the month open until 10 pm
Sat + Sun and holidays: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm


Jan Hoetplein 1,
9000 Ghent, Belgium


Regular: 13 EUR
Group: 11 EUR/Person

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