Ape Law

Ape Law

3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, Istanbul

22 October – 20 November 2016

Are They Human? by Eyal Weizman

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).


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Paulo Tavares
  • Samaneh Moafi
  • Christina Varvia
  • Nabil Ahmed
  • Sophie Springer
  • Lorenzo Pezzani
  • Jason Men
  • Nichola Czyz

The Case

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 a Conservation Drone flying 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

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.

Images from the Exhibition

Selected views of the exhibition: © Forensic Architecture

Memory and Justice

Saydnaya: Inside a Syrian Torture Prison

Memory and Justice: An exchange between art, law and civil society on human rights abuses, torture and methods of addressing past wrongs

Berlin, 29 September – 1 October 2016

Saydnaya Military Prison, 30 km north of Damascus, is one of the Syrian government’s most notorious torture and detention centres. Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria in 2011, thousands of regime opponents, including both peaceful demonstrators and military personnel have been held and tortured there. Many died in custody.  No journalist or independent monitoring groups have been allowed in. In 2016, Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International met with a number of former detainees now refugees in Turkey. Using spatial and acoustic modelling they help them reconstruct the architecture of the prison, their experiences of incarceration and incidents that took place inside. As the witnesses measured rooms, located windows, doors and objects and reconstructed the soundscapes of the prison, memories otherwise obscured by trauma and violence have returned.

The symposium Memory and Justice created a platform for interdisciplinary debates – spanning various epochs and regions – on legal proceedings, inquiries and other state responses to grave crimes and the extent of civil society participation in these processes. Forensic Architecture exhibited Saydnaya: Inside Syrian Torture Prison as a paradigmatic case where architecture reveals the role of memory in contemporary political conflict.

The project was exhibited as a video installation of eight synchronised channels with open ambient sound.




Arc en rêve centre d’architecture, Bordeaux

2 June – 25 September 2016

Constellation.s is a project devoted to new ways of inhabiting the world. Given the global changes that disrupt current lives,  constellation.s  outlines the individual and collective initiatives that draw prospects, given the challenges of tomorrow. Faced with fear, isolationism,  and extremism, constellation.s invites critical thinking to understand the world in which we live in. Bringing together a multidisciplinary view from social sciences, philosophy, architecture and business- which reflect the present time. An appointment with the intelligible new conditions of human habitation; with practices that take the risk to make sense of the future; an opportunity to share the innovation process capable of imagining new ways of inhabiting the world.

Commissioner arc en rêve architecture center Michel Lussault, scientific director Francine Fort , Michel Jacques artistic direction

Selected Views Of The Exhibition: © Arc en rêve – centre d’architecture


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Christina Varvia
  • Satellite Studio






A World Of Fragile Parts

A World Of Fragile Parts

La Biennale di Venezia 2016, Venice

28 May – 27 November 2016

In A World of Fragile Parts, a special project running from 28 May – 27 November 2016 in the Applied Arts Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia and the V&A explore the threats facing the preservation of global heritage sites and how the production of copies can aid in the preservation of cultural artefacts.

 A World of Fragile Parts, is organized by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta, in collaboration with the V&A Museum, London. Curated by Brendan Cormier.

Selected Views Of The Exhibition: © Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Christina Varvia
  • Stefan Laxness
  • Satellite Studio

Reporting From The Front

Reporting From The Front

La Biennale di Venezia 2016, Venice

28 May – 27 November 2016

“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.

Selected views of the exhibition: © Forensic Architecture


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Christina Varvia
  • Paulo Tavares
  • Charles Heller
  • Lorenzo Pezzani
  • Samaneh Moafi
  • Hana Rizvanolli
  • Ariel Caine
  • Ana Naomi De Sousa
  • Susan Schuppli
  • Steffen Kramer
  • Francesco Sebregondi
  • Nick Axel
  • Jacob Burns
  • Blake Fisher
  • Reisner Beeliz
  • Samir Harb
  • Zahara Hussain
  • Shourideh Molavi
  • Jamon Van Der Hoek
  • Hania Halabi
  • Vere Van Gool
  • Camila Solomayor
  • Rosario Guiraldes
  • Mohammed Abdullah
  • Tom Tlalim
  • Giulia Bruno
  • Jan Klesswetter
  • Giuseppe Ileasi
  • Armin Linke
  • Alina Schmuch

Up In The Air


STUCK Kunstencentrum, Leuven

9 February – 21 February 2016

 Artefact 2016: Up in the Air,  aimed to investigate the poetic, political and economic parameters that guide our relation to airspace. The spiritual dimensions that seem to be closely related to an ‘up-there’, the hopes and dreams for which we turn our gaze up, the attempts to understand the intangible and sometimes invisible stand in stark contrast to the more practical political and economic approaches that organize and regulate our use of air space in areas such as transportation, scanning and surveillance, and air quality control.

Curated by Karen Verschooren

Artefact is an initiative of the Province Vlaams-Brabant i.c.w. Stad Leuven-Supported by KU Leuven in the context of the policy guideline ‘art and science’.

Selected Views Of The Exhibition: © Kristof Vrancken


  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Nabil Ahmed
  • Maayan Amir
  • Anthropocene Observatory (Anselm Franke, Armin Linke, Territorial Agency/John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog)
  • Jacob Burns






The Urban-Data Complex

The Urban-Data Complex

Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism \ Architecture (UABB)

Shenzhen, 4 December 2015 – 4 March 2016

Forensis is Latin for “pertaining to the forum” and is the root of the term forensics. The Roman forum was a multidimensional space in which humans and objects participated in politics, law and the economy. With the advent of modernity, ‘forensics’ shifted in meaning to refer exclusivly to the domain of law and to the use of science in courts. It became central to the ways states police and govern their subjects, and, through its representations in mass media, a defining feature of contemporary culture. Returning to the wider concepts of forensis, however this exhibition seeks to unlock the potential of forensics as a public, political practice.

At UABB 2015, Forensic Architecture presented a selection of recent investigations that encapsulate the idea of reading and reconstructing violence through the city form. In addition, the group hosted a series of workshops and public forums to engage the practical and conceptual questions raised by the work. The exhibited work included:

  1. Investigations of the use of white phosphorus munitions in Fallujah and Gaza in 2012, which helped lead to a ban of the substance from the arsenal of the Israeli military.
  2. Analysis of drone strikes in Miranshah, Pakistan based on rare documentary footage, commissioned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights in 2013. Forensic Architecture conducted intensive analysis and cross-referencing with other material to locate, time, and partially reconstruct how the events unfolded.
  3. Hannibal in Rafah.  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.


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Christina Varvia
  • Francesco Sebregondi
  • Hana Rizvanolli
  • Nick Axel


The Other Architect

The Other Architect

The Canadian Centre for Architecture

Montréal, 28 October 2015 – 10 April 2016

For as long as architecture has been reduced to a service to society or an “industry” whose ultimate goal is only to build, there have been others who imagine it instead as a field of intellectual research: energetic, critical, and radical.

From a set of varied approaches drawn from many people, places, and times, the other architect emerges: searching for different operating models, aiming for collaborative strategies, introducing strange concepts, and experimenting with new kinds of tools.

Three Forensic Architecture projects were presented as videos in this exhibition: Drone Strikes Miranshah, Nakba Day Killings and Rafah: Black Friday. A large wallpaper print framed a hand sketch of the drone strike in Miranshah. The work was accompanied by commissioning letters and the original ERC award grant letter that exposed the nature of Forensic Architecture as a research agency.

Burden Of Proof


Photographers’ Gallery, London

2 October – 10 January 2016

Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence examines the way photographic images have been harnessed as evidence in instances of crimes or acts of violence suffered by individuals or groups.

The exhibition presents eleven case studies spanning the period from the invention of ‘metric’ photography of crime scenes in the 19th century to the reconstruction of a drone attack in Pakistan in 2012 using digital and satellite technologies. These offer an analysis of the historical and geopolitical contexts in which the images appeared, as well as their purpose, production process and dissemination.

“A forensic delineation of how photography has been used as evidence of war crimes and acts of violence…present(s) a catalogue of destruction on a scale that even oral testimony cannot hope to equal…haunting” – Sean O’ Hagan, The Guardian

Curated by Diane Dufour

Co-produced by LE BAL, in Paris, The Photographers’ Gallery, in London and the Nederlands Fotomuseum, in Rotterdam.

Selected Views Of The Exhibition: © The Photographers’ Gallery | Kate Elliott


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Christina Varvia


  • Culture Whisper, 24 August 2015
  • Aesthetica, 27 August 2015
  • The Guardian, 8 September 2015
  • RA Blog, 2 October 2015
  • Wallpaper*, 2 October 2015
  • The Telegraph, 2 October 2015
  • Disphotic, 5 October 2015
  • BBC Culture, 7 October 2015
  • Galleries Now, 28 October 2015
  • Spectator, 31 October 2015
  • Cent, 6 November 2015
  • Creative Review, 25 November 2015
  • Wired, 14 December 2015
  • Time Out, 5 January 2016








Forensis at PROA


Fundación Proa (PROA), Buenos Aires

25 September – 31 January 2016

Foundacion Proa presented the Forensis exhibition in Buenos Aires, an exhibition of work by multidisciplinary research team Forensic Architecture, which specialises in revealing and investigating the political and social circumstances in which contemporary conflicts occur.

Past,current and new scientific and technological methodologies are used by the group of architects, artists and filmmakers – who study areas where the social and urban fabric is altered by political and social conflicts.

The contemporary viewer often fails to locate or respond to the complex global mapping of this. The exhibition Forensis showcased seven projects from different parts of the world, attempting to build a global view through advanced technologies and everyday tools from our environment. Returning to the concept of ‘Forensis’- a public forum, the exhibition attempts to recreate this concept for the visitor by creating a space for reflection that enables a live reading of current events. Through images from the public domain comprising of; satellite images, 3D videos,professional photographs as well as media uploaded onto the web by anonymous citizens, the viewer is challenged directly.

Forensis brought forth unique and original features into the realm of the exhibition, allowing one to reflect on the current world through the eyes of an international team of specialists from Goldsmiths University of London.

Both in content and in form, Forensis questions contemporary art practices, and proposes a debate on the place of the modern subject in various global conflicts where social, cultural, spatial and material spheres cross.


Curated by Anselm Franke, Eyal Weizman and Rosario Güiraldes

FORENSIS is a co-production by Fundacion Proa, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, funded by the Capital Cultural Fund, and by Forensic Architecture, ERC-funded research project based at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Selected Views Of The Exhibition: ©Jorge Miño, Fundación Proa


  • Lawrence Abu Hamdan
  • Nabil Ahmed
  • Maayan Amir
  • Anthropocene Observatory (Anselm Franke, Armin Linke, Territorial Agency/John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog)
  • Jacob Burns
  • Gabriel Cuéllar
  • DAAR (Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, Eyal Weizman)
  • Forensic Oceanography (Charles Heller, Lorenzo Pezzani)
  • Grupa Spomenik (Damir Arsenijević, Ana Bezić, Pavle Levi, Jelena Petrović, Branimir Stojanović, Milica Tomić)
  • Ayesha Hameed
  • Samir Harb
  • Helene Kazan
  • Thomas Keenan
  • Steffen Kraemer
  • Adrian Lahoud
  • Model Court (Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Lorenzo Pezzani, Oliver Rees)
  • Modelling Kivalina (Andrea Bagnato, Daniel Fernández Pascual, Helene Kazan, Hannah Meszaros Martin, Alon Schwabe)
  • Gerald Nestler
  • Godofredo Pereira
  • Nicola Perugini
  • ScanLAB Projects (Matthew Shaw, William Trossell)
  • Susan Schuppli
  • Francesco Sebregondi
  • Shela Sheikh
  • SITU Research (Robert Beach, McKenna Cole, Therese Diede, Akshay Mehra, Charles-Antoine Perrault, Bradley Samuels, Xiaowei Wang)
  • Caroline Sturdy Colls
  • Paulo Tavares
  • Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss/NAO
  • Eyal Weizman
  • Ines Weizman


  • Cintia Mezza
  • Cecilia Jaime
  • SPIN
  • Guillermo Goldschmidt
  • Soledad Oliva
  • Pablo Zaefferer
  •  Josefina Insausti
  • Víctor López Zumelzu
  • Paulina Guarnieri
  • Rosario García Martínez
  • Camila Villarruel
  • Laura Ferreiros
  • Agostina Gabanetta
  • Noemí Aira
  • Juan Carlos Urrutia
  • Cora Papic
  • Javier Aparicio
  • Leandro Barzabal
  •  Ale Giorgga
  • Hernán Salvo
  • Hernán Torres