Figure-Ground

Forensic Architecture

The photograph of Earth, as a historical icon, does not merely stand for the transformation of the frontier into a border-environment, for turning the gaze from expansion to intensification, exchanging out- and inside. It also stands for the collapse of figures and grounds on a planetary scale: above all, the figure of “humanity” against the planetary backdrop of “nature,” the driving engine of History with a capital H. The epistemological and disciplinary distinctions of modernity, particularly of the Cartesian heritage, reveal themselves to be dialectical, multi-stable figures: figures in which one or more aspects can be seen, and the relation between “figure” and “ground” can be reversed, each aspect depending on the other. Every forensic act is an act of “figuration,” tracing a lost figure within an already almost undifferentiated ground as in the process of exhumation, or of folding figure into ground by reversing the nexus of agency, the active (agent) with the passive (patient), for instance between a human actor and a natural force.

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