FIGURE / GROUND

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Field Causalities

Exhumations are acts of “figuration” in that they seek to recover the human body from undifferentiated grounds. Equally, human rights work produces figurations when it concentrates on individual testimonies, while tending to avoid complex political backgrounds.

But as forensics shifts from figure to ground, from the human to the environment, explanatory models and structures of causation must also shift. The increasingly destructive entanglement of human and natural forces poses major challenges to the classical figurations inherent to law and to human rights. Whereas criminal law seeks to establish a linear or causal relation between perpetrator and victim, between violent actions and material traces, “field causalities” are inherently relational, non-linear, and diffused over space and time.

Staro Sajmište (Old Fairground) / former Semlin concentration camp, Belgrade. 3D laser scan integrated with ground penetrating radar data. The low foundations seen between the trees held the posts of barbed wire fence that marked the eastern edge of the camp. The subterranean scan was undertaken in search of archaeological remains and potential graves but no object could be identified in the ground. Image: Forensic Architecture / ScanLAB/ Caroline Sturdy Colls, 2013

Staro Sajmište (Old Fairground) / former Semlin concentration camp, Belgrade. 3D laser scan integrated with ground penetrating radar data. The low foundations seen between the trees held the posts of barbed wire fence that marked the eastern edge of the camp. The subterranean scan was undertaken in search of archaeological remains and potential graves but no object could be identified in the ground. Image: Forensic Architecture / ScanLAB/ Caroline Sturdy Colls, 2013

Violence in the Anthropocene

The concept of the Anthropocene names the way human history is inscribed into the materiality of the Earth. As such it undoes the classic figure / ground gestalt. The ground can no longer be seen as a neutral background against which human action takes place, or a passive medium upon which it leaves its traces; rather, it is remade by human action and also acts as an agent in entangled natural / historical processes. The adequate forums for dealing with field causalities are not juridical but political. To establish field causalities for environmental violence is to articulate the material basis for the imperative to fundamentally reconfigure the political, economical, natural field—as opposed to the tendency of international justice to punish a few culpable individuals.

United Nations Environmental Program Map: Areas affected by vegetative drought, 2010. This image correlates the intensity of drought (dark brown) with civil conflict (gray hatch) and population growth (black dots). Human-induced climate change has been destabilizing the climate in the Sahel for decades. Years of consecutive drought drastically reduced land available for cultivation, placing increased stress on already fragile livelihoods. This has exacerbated existing conflicts in the region, leading to a displacement of people to coastal cities such as Lagos. (Adrian Lahoud)

United Nations Environmental Program Map: Areas affected by vegetative drought, 2010. This image correlates the intensity of drought (dark brown) with civil conflict (gray hatch) and population growth (black dots). Human-induced climate change has been destabilizing the climate in the Sahel for decades. Years of consecutive drought drastically reduced land available for cultivation, placing increased stress on already fragile livelihoods. This has exacerbated existing conflicts in the region, leading to a displacement of people to coastal cities such as Lagos.
(Adrian Lahoud)

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