15 Sep 2023 - 04 Feb 2024

Waters’ Witness

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia


Tarek Atoui: Waters’ Witness at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA Australia) is the first major presentation in Australia by the celebrated Lebanese artist and composer.

A multi-faceted artist and performer, Tarek Atoui (b.1980, Beirut) works with the sensorial and spatial possibilities of sound – both as a catalyst for social interaction and its relationship to place, history and ecology.

Waters’ Witness is an exhibition that combines elements of the artist’s ongoing 10-year project dedicated to capturing the sounds of harbour cities, from Athens to Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Beirut, Porto, Istanbul and now Sydney. It encompasses a composition of tangible and intangible forms – an installation, performances, publications and an archive of sounds – that continually evolve as each new harbour is added.

Atoui collaborates with an international network of musicians, instrument makers, audio technicians and people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Working with musicians and field recording specialists Chris Watson and Éric La Casa, he uses a variety of techniques to record sounds close to the sea, under the water and through materials such as metal, stone and wood.

He also collects objects and materials at each site, transforming them into resonant sculptures and speakers. Recordings from different harbour cities circulate within the installation and are programmed to emanate through its landscape of interconnected objects.

At MCA Australia, Atoui has been commissioned to create new sculptures using Sydney sandstone, which have been equipped with a sound system. The sculptures are inspired by the cohabitational zones Atoui witnessed along Sydney’s shorelines in March2023, where he recorded sounds of Sydney Harbour and the Port Botany area and observed the convergence of nature, society, and industry.

MCA Australia Curator Anna Davis, exhibition curator of Waters’ Witness said: ‘Like many of Tarek Atoui’s projects, Waters’ Witness is not a static entity. It continues to shift and change, much like its subject matter. Port cities serve as the juncture where land and waters meet. They are points of departure and arrival, embodying the essence of ebb and flow, gateways, and exchanges, rather than characteristics that are stationary or fixed.’

Waters’ Witness is part of a series of exhibitions created in the MCA’s Macgregor Gallery that present significant works by some of today’s most relevant living artists.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a new publication designed by Goda Budvytytė and published by the MCA Australia. The fourth in a series documenting Waters’ Witness, the publication is created with Atoui’s long-term collaborator, Alexandre Guirkinger, and incorporates an evocative photo essay by the French photographer, as well as a foreword by MCA Australia Director Suzanne Cotter, and an interview between Atoui and exhibition curator Anna Davis.

Available at the MCA Store and online from late 2023.

Public Program
Live performances by Atoui and guests are programmed within the exhibition, together with a series of sound-based educational workshops.

Press release from Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Image: Tarek Atoui. Installation view of Waters’ Witness at Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, 2023. Photography by Zan Wimberley. Image courtesy of the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. © Tarek Atoui