“The strategies and practices of Forensic Architecture do indeed record facts and frame them with the greatest precision through the analysis they are subjected to, but they are everything but ‘dry’ because of their embeddedness in the political terrain in which they are located and the difficulty to bring them to the surface. The fragile nature of their status and their conditionality communicate the complicated relationship between fact and truth. This complication brings the viewer/reader of FA’s investigations into the larger arena of the social and political relations of power, a highly unstable field. Moreover, affect plays an important role in their particular construction of the documentary, for as Weizman underlines, the desire to transform the way things are is at the heart of their project and this drive for change is not only achieved by exploiting material sensitivity but by a sensitivity to the materiality of politics and the ability to feel pain.”
The Parliament of Bodies, the Public Program of documenta 14, emerged from the experience of the so-called long summer of migration in Europe, which revealed the simultaneous failure not only of modern representative democratic institutions but also of ethical practices of hospitality.
As part of this program, The Society of Friends of Halitpresented documentation of their investigation, research, and activism into the murder of twenty-one-year-old Halit Yozgat on 6 April 2006 in a family-operated internet cafe in Kassel, Germany. Halit became the ninth victim in a string of racially motivated murders of immigrants conducted by the Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund (NSU, or National Socialist Underground). A Hessian secret service agent, Andreas Temme, was present during Halit’s murder but claimed that he neither heard the gunshots, noticed the sharp smell of gunpowder, nor saw Halit’s body behind the counter when he left. The Society of Friends of Halit situated the shots that killed Halit Yozgat within a long history of racist violence that is deeply rooted in German society. We used the term “NSU Complex” to describe this combination of neo-Nazi terror and institutional and structural racism.
As the digital photographic document becomes instantly distributed and connected through online networks, big clusters of images from different sources can be merged to create a new notion of visual evidence that goes beyond the frames of individual pictures. From citizens sharing their photos on Twitter to journalistic reports and state media, all of this data can be collected and analysed – a collection of fragments that together forms a new image-space of an event. In Bomb Cloud Atlas, collected data from different moments of the conflict in Syria from 2015, like the bombings of the MSF Hospital in Ma’arat al-Numan, is used to create 3D printed models of the events. Next to the 3D reconstructions, the cluster will also feature a video that provides insight into the process behind Forensic Architecture’s work.
This display is part of the SITUATIONS series at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, which is an exhibition format developed to react more quickly to developments within photographic culture. The role of SITUATIONS is to define Fotomuseum Winterthur’s vision of what photography is becoming, at the same time offering an innovative integration of physical exhibition space and virtual forum. Using tags and clusters as a mode of curatorial classification the aim is to integrate the real and the virtual in relation to exhibition in a new way.
Kindly supported by Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.
Forensic Architecture: Towards an Investigative Aesthetics
MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona)
Barcelona, 28 April – 15 October 2017
This exhibition presents the work of the architects, artists, filmmakers and investigative journalists who make up the Forensic Architecture agency at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London, as well as that of its collaborators and guests. Established in 2010, Forensic Architecture uses architectural analysis, models and animations as investigative tools, primarily for the production and presentation of spatial evidence in the context of armed conflict and political struggles. This evidence is presented in political and legal contexts, including international courts, truth commissions, and human and environmental forums.
Both ‘forensics’ and ‘architecture’ refer to well-established disciplinary frames. Brought together, they shift each other’s meaning, giving rise to a different mode of practice. While architecture adds an essential method of investigation, forensics demands that architects pay the closest attention to the materiality of the built environment and its media representation.
This exhibition spans part of the museum’s second floor. The one-hundred-metre-long back wall, traversing the entire exhibition across three galleries, has been conceived of as an extended essay that echoes the investigations included in the galleries, presenting the kind of theoretical and methodological reflection that contemporary investigative aesthetics demands today. The investigations are arranged according to scale, beginning with the human body and moving through rooms, buildings and cities to territories and oceans, from micro-analysis to the scale of the planet – the ultimate forensic object, which human-induced climate change has transformed into both a construction site and a ruin.
While exploring the development and transformation of the investigative practice that bears its name, the exhibition challenges us to consider how contemporary artistic practices and media technologies can be geared up to engage this reality of post-truth.
Exhibition co-produced by MACBA Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona and MUAC, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City.
The first investigation, Rafah: Black Friday, was undertaken in close partnership with Amnesty International, this investigation focuses on four days of the summer 2014 attack on Gaza by the Israeli military. The controversial Hannibal directive resulted in the heaviest civilian death toll of the entire conflict, and the extensive destruction of Rafah’s built environment.
The second investigation explored through this exhibition was Air Strike Atimah. This case used clips found in social media websites online to investigate three air strikes on 8 March 2015, near the town of Atimah in Syria and the displaced persons camp of the same name, both abutting the Northern border to Turkey.
Videos and images from the investigations were accompanied by bomb cloud models. A bomb cloud is made of everything a building once was: concrete, plaster, soil, glass, flesh, and is thus architecture in gaseous form, an event as monument that exists for seven to nine minutes. If modelled correctly, it can also provide valuable evidence in legal cases. Forensic Architecture are able to use mainstream and social media images of these clouds to create 3D models, which help to approximate the date and precise location of bomb strikes, aiding human rights agencies to compile valuable reports about conflict zones.
Ape Law examines human-induced environmental violence on other species. Utilising the example of Sandra, the first ape in the world to be granted human rights by an Argentine criminal appeals court in 2015, the exhibit asks whether tropical forest fires can be legally recognised as acts of mass murder against the orangutans inhabiting them. A new kind of forensic archaeology tracks their fate by monitoring signs of their temporary architecture in the treetops.
This exhibition is organised by Forensic Architecture in collaboration with FIBGAR: Baltasar Garzón, m7red and Irendra Radjawali (United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil, Argentina).
A casualty of the process of ecocide in Indonesia was the indigenous orangutan apes and other wildlife. Throughout history, these apes have been threshold figures between man and nature. They are also currently at the frontier of debates regarding the future of laws and rights based on their neurological, genetic, and physiological similarities to humans. This leads us to ask: is killing an orangutan a murder?
Orangutans walk as haze shrouds Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation camp in Nyaru Menteng, Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Rosa Panggabean/Antara Foto
Two orangutan nests spotted by aConservation Droneflying at 100m above ground. Is the architecture of the orangutan the archaeology of the human? Credit: Conservation Drones
In 2014, after a long legal process brought up by AFADA, an animal rights association in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Sandra, a German born (Rostock Zoo) 30-year-old female orangutan has won a legal status approximating human rights. After many rejections, the writ of habeas corpus was accepted and Sandra was declared a “non-human person”. The court ruled that Sandra was a sentient being with thoughts and feelings who had been wrongfully deprived of her freedom when she was subjected to an unjust confinement in the zoo. Sandra has the right to be considered a “subject” of law, rather than a mere object or a “thing.”
Brandon Keim, “An Orangutan Has (Some) Human Rights, Argentine Court Rules,” Wired website, December 22, 2014. Article photo by Roger Schultz/Flickr.
The Sandra Trial involved, on all sides, expert witnesses on animal and primate cognition from Argentina and elsewhere. Three positions arose: (1) The city (which owns the Zoo) considered Sandra as an object and regarded her as its property; (2) The petitioners adopted an abolitionist perspective and asked for her to be considered a subject of law, demanding her immediate release; and (3) The compromise position saw it as a matter of welfare, seeking not rights but the improvement her conditions of life and her relocation into an ape sanctuary. The threshold between humans and animals was determined not only scientifically and juridically but rather politically and culturally.
Original footage of the court hearing held in Buenos Aires on 26 March 2015, provided by the Office of the Judge Elena Liberatori. The video includes interviews, conducted by m7red, with the Judge in charge of the Sandra trial, Dra. Elena Liberatori, the expert witness, biologist Dr. Hector Ferrari, and Sandra’s lawyer Dr. Andres Gil Dominguez.
Credit: M7red with Forensic Architecture, 2016
Cognition tests were undertaken on Sandra and other orangutans and presented in the context of the trial.
Sandra in the former Buenos Aires ZOO (now BA Ecopark), October 17, 2016. Concept by m7red + Julian D’Angiolillo. Editing by Julian D’Angiolillo
Floating peanut: Mendes, N., Hanus, D. & Call, J. (2007). Raising the level: Orangutans use water as a tool. Biology Letters, 3, 453-455.
Liquid transfer: Suda, C. & Call, J. (2004). Piagetian liquid conservation in the great apes. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 118, 265-279.
Quantity discrimination: Hanus, D. & Call, J. (2007). Discrete quantity judgments in the great apes: The effect of presenting whole sets vs. item-by-item. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 121, 241-249.
Audio Report by Nabil Ahmed
In this report, Nabil Ahmed speaks with Dr. Adriano Lameira, a primate anthropologist from Durham University, about his research into how orangutan vocalisation demonstrates primate ‘vocal culture’ and the ability to control their voice.
Sandra’s Writ of Habeas Corpus
Habeas Corpus is a right originating in 17th century England, which demands a person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for detention. In recent decades it has been associated with demands to produce the bodies of the “disappeared” of the dirty wars of South America and those of the War on Terror. AFADA’s argument for Sandra’s entitlement to habeas corpus was to do with “an unjustified confinement of an animal with probed cognitive capacity”. The court accepted it, referring to the juridical and philosophical reflections contained in the book of the Jurist Eugenio Zaffaroni “The Pachamama and the Human”.
The Threshold of the Human
When European travellers, scientists, theologians and traders first encountered great apes, they perceived them to be “intermediate animals” inhabiting (as Donna Haraway explained in “Primate Vision”) the murky border between animals and humans, nature and culture.
In a long footnote to this book, Jean Jacques Rousseau turns his attention to the orangutan. Rousseau’s orangutans perform all the things 17th and 18th centuries scholars believed apes to perform, enjoying fire, cooking and burying their dead. The humanity of orangutans was crucially manifested in the architecture of the nests they build in the forest. Rousseau thought that the ape shared with humans the capacity to learn, improve and perfect itself, the first slip in a slippery slope towards civilisation. But he conceived of the threshold of the human to be elastic: once you can “become human” you could also “become animal” and then slide back across the border again.
Oran·Ootan, Daniel Beeckman, A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, 1718, p.37.
Petrus Camper, 1777 Camper drawing of an Orangutan’s larynx
The Dehumanisation of Nature
In 1777 Dutch anatomist Petrus Camper dissected an orangutan corpse to try to resolve the age old mystery: was the orangutan a kind of human, or was it an animal? The crucial question was the voice, which in the 18th century, was thought to be the dwelling place of language. After dissecting the ape’s throat Camper proclaimed that the orangutan’s larynx— the organ housing the vocal cords essential for sound production and phonation—foreclosed the possibility of anything resembling humanlike vocal speech and that the orangutan could not ever become human. The threshold between man and animal, previously a blurry frontier-land, had become rigid and static.
From left to right: (1) An Orangutan: Comte de Buffon. Histoire naturelle, générale et particuliere, 1770; Vol. 6, Plate 42, p. 172.; (2) “Orangs in their Native Woods,” plate from: Richard Lydekker, The Royal Natural History. London: Frederick Warne, 1893-94; Vol. 1, p. 47.; (3) An orangutan nest in Tanjung Puting National Park, South Kalimantan, Indonesia, Forensic Architecture, 2016.
Buffon’s orangutan (1) is human-like, standing empathically upright against the backdrop of deforested land. The stick he is holding in his hand still has some live leaves on it – it is a branch recently cut from a tree, the ape has just left the forest and entered the agrarian domain of the fields, the area of law and economics. This image supports the 18th-century conception that the orangutan is part of the human species. This opened up a series of ethical issues: If the orangutan is human is the human species stratified? Could this be used as a justification for slavery?
By the end of the 18th century, scientific research had “dehumanised” the orangutan. In this 19th century depiction (2), one detail has significantly changed: the orangutan still holds a branch in its hand and it is of similar diameter to the one in the previous image. However, this branch is still connected to a tree, the orangutan is back from the field to the forest, it is part of nature, an animal.
Scientists consider these treetop structures to be not only the result of instinctive behavior (like bird nests or a termite hills) but as transferable “cultural artifact” with variations across different communities. The architecture of this nest (3) demonstrates an important synthesis confirmed by architecture: the branches (of a similar thickness to the previous two) are tools, but they are still connected to the tree. The ape has fractured, bent, and tied them together to form the basic structure of a nest.
An orangutan skull, a human hand and a GIS locator. Image: Greenpeace, 24 June 2013. Greenpeace and Friends of National Parks Foundation (FNPF) discovered this orangutan skull buried near the borders of two palm oil plantations (run by subsidiaries of Eagle High/BW Group and Bumitama Agri Group) near Tanjung Puting National Park in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
That these remains of an orangutan were found in a shallow grave suggests an attempt to hide its killing. It is thus the strongest testimony that the perpetrators have themselves understood it to be a crime. The GIS reader (held by the hand of another humanoid) locates the grave in absolute terms in relation to the planet. Closing the exhibition, this image suggests a different conception of the universal: rather than seeking for apes to be protected by individual forms of (almost) human rights, we could ask for the extension of a certain kind of collective, environmental “orangutan rights” to humans and with it a certain “becoming humanoid” of humanity.
“We would like the Biennale Architettura 2016 to offer a new point of view … Given the complexity and variety of challenges that architecture has to respond to, REPORTING FROM THE FRONT will be about listening to those that were able to gain some perspective and consequently are in the position to share some knowledge and experiences with those of us standing on the ground.” – Alejandro Aravena
In this exhibition, Forensic Architecture presents elements from four recent investigations. Undertaken at different scales, these cases extend from the micro-analysis of a single ruin from a drone strike in Miranshah, Pakistan, to an urban analysis of the city of Rafah in Gaza under Israeli attack; the death of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, to the environmental violence along the shifting climatic frontiers of desertification and deforestation.
While architecture adds an essential method of investigation, forensics demands of architects the closest attention to the materiality of the built environment and its media representations. It also challenges architectural analysis to be performed publicly and politically in the most antagonistic of forums.
The 15th International Architecture Exhibition, titled REPORTING FROM THE FRONT, is directed by Alejandro Aravena and organised by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta.
Forensic Architecture is based at Goldsmiths, University of London and funded by the European Research Council, OAK Foundation, Potter Foundation, and Sigrid Rausing Trust, as well as commissions from various groups on a project basis.
Department of Visual Cultures
Goldsmiths, University of London