March 26 – June 5, 2022

45th Parallel (2022) 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 Stansted.

Lawrence wrote a monologue and devised a performance for the Haskell, the only dual-jurisdiction opera house in the world. Working on site to activate the legal and symbolic potential of the building, the artist’s script is performed by the acclaimed filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel. The story that unfolds, centres on Hernández vs. Mesa, a judicial case covering the fatal, cross-border shooting in 2010 of an unarmed fifteen-year-old Mexican national 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 in 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 backdrop 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 are also part of the installation 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 and tell stories of permeable borders and impermeable laws, reflecting on how free movement, free knowledge, and free space are under threat.

Co-commissioned by the Toronto Biennial of Art; Mercer Union, Toronto; Spike Island, Bristol; and Western Front, Vancouver. The film is produced by LONO Studio and made possible with the generous support of Arts Council England, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ford Foundation

Audio Didactic:


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 11th Gwangju Biennale (2016); the 13th and 14th Sharjah Biennial (2017 and 2019); 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.

Exhibition Site

Mercer Union

Outdoor view of Mercer Union building

1286 Bloor St W
Toronto ON
M6H 1N9