26 March 2022 - 4 June 2022
45th Parallel focuses on the Haskell Free Library and Opera House—a unique municipal site between the jurisdictions of Canada and the United States. Constructed in 1904 under the patronage of the local Haskell family, this building was deliberately designed to straddle the frontier between Canada and the US as a symbolic act of unity in the transnational town of Stanstead.
Abu Hamdan wrote a monologue and devised a performance for this only dual-jurisdiction opera house in the world. Working on site to activate the legal and symbolic potential of the Haskell building, the artist’s script is performed by the acclaimed filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel. The story that unfolds, centres on Hernández v. Mesa, a judicial case covering a fatal, cross-border shooting of an unarmed 15-year-old Mexican national in 2010 by a US Border Patrol agent. In 2019, when the case reached the Supreme Court, the Office of the President of the United States intervened in favour of Mesa—the border guard—to claim that, as the firearm was discharged on US soil and the murder of Hernández took place in Mexico, the guard could not be prosecuted in the US. The case was debated at the Supreme Court, where judges were openly fearful that Mesa’s prosecution would create a precedential vulnerability that could lead families impacted by US drone strikes to seek justice.
The performance about one border conflict is set on the site of a grey legal area and looks at how each border implicates the other, and how borders are not lines but, rather, richly layered spaces. Each act of the performance is demarcated by a scenographic change in the hand-painted backdrops behind the performer. First, is the original Opera House’s backdrop of a Venice canal, followed by two new hand-painted backdrops created by the artist that will also hang at Mercer Union. One references a 1920 painting by artist Richard Carline of an aerial view of Damascus and its surrounding landscape, and the other depicts the concrete culvert of the 2010 El Paso–Juárez cross-border shooting.
The video and backdrops presented at Mercer Union serve as a portrait of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House to tell stories of permeable borders and impermeable laws, as a reflection on how free movement, free knowledge, and free space remain under threat.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan: 45th Parallel. Installation view: Mercer Union, 2022. Courtesy the Artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.
45th Parallel is a collaboration between Mercer Union and the Toronto Biennial of Art. It is commissioned by Mercer Union, Toronto; Spike Island, Bristol; the Toronto Biennial of Art; and Western Front, Vancouver. The film is produced by LONO Studio and made possible with the generous support of Arts Council England, Canada Council for the Arts, the Ford Foundation and mor charpentier.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan (born in 1985, Amman, Jordan) is a “Private Ear.” His interest in sound and politics originates from his background as a touring musician and facilitator of DIY music. The artist’s audio investigations have been used as evidence at the UK Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and as advocacy for organizations such as Amnesty International. Lawrence has exhibited at the 58th Venice Biennale (2019); the 13th and 14th Sharjah Biennial (2017 and 2019); the 11th Gwangju Biennale (2016); and Tate Modern, London, UK. As part of a temporary collective with nominated artists Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani, he was awarded the 2019 Turner Prize.
45th Parallel is developed in collaboration with and presented as part of the 2022 Toronto Biennial of Art. Titled, What Water Knows, The Land Remembers, the Biennial exhibition is open and free to the public from March 26 — June 5, 2022, and takes place in multiple locations across the city. For more information visit torontobiennial.org
Mercer Union thanks Leading Supporters Donna & Robert Poile.
45th Parallel is presented as part of Artist First, a Mercer Union commissioning platform. Artist First Commissions are made possible with the generous support of Rebecca Carbin, Jane Corkin, Popsy & Bob Johnstone, David & Erica Neligan, Nuyten Dime Foundation, Jeanne Parkin & Jennifer Parkin, Donna & Robert Poile, Victoria Taylor, and Morden Yolles. To learn more about Artist First click the link here.
The exhibition is presented in partnership with Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. In-kind sponsorship is provided by Panasonic through its partnership program for cultural institutes.
2021-22 Online Engagement Supported by TD Bank Group.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, video still from 45th Parallel, 2022. Courtesy the artist.