The Architecture of Public Truth

The Architecture of Public Truth

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin

16-17 March 2014

The conference The Architecture of Public Truth brings together the fields of law and aesthetic production. Artists, writers, lawyers, judges, activists, theorists, and architects will raise questions about recent transformations in the conditions under which spatial and material evidence is recorded and presented. The conference sets out to explore ways in which new kinds of engagement with the materiality of politics might open new political possibilities and shift existing fields of knowledge. The panels will explore a wide range of issues and scales: from the human body, through buildings and territories, to the scale of the planet as the ultimate forensic object, which human-induced climate change has transformed into both a construction site and a ruin.


  • Nabil Ahmed
  • Maayan Amir
  • Brenna Bhandar
  • Silvia Fehrmann
  • Anselm Franke
  • Baltasar Garzón
  • Wolfgang Kaleck
  • Thomas Keenan
  • Adrian Lahoud
  • Jonathan Littell
  • Hannah Meszaros Martin
  • Louis Moreno Ocampo
  • Godofredo Pereira
  • Marcela Pizzaro
  • Susan Schuppli
  • Michael Sfard
  • Paulo Tavares
  • Eyal Weizman




Forensic Aesthetics

Forensic Aesthetics:

A roundtable forum on and with objects

Cabinet Magazine, Brooklyn / Vera List Center for Art and Politics, New York

4-5 November 2011

While legal and cultural scholars have labeled the third part of the 20th century – with its particular attention to testimony – as the “era of the witness,” the emergence of forensics in legal forums and popular entertainment signifies a new attention to the communicative capacity, agency, and power of things. This material approach is evident in the ubiquitous role that science and technologies now play in shaping contemporary ways of seeing, knowing, and communicating. Today’s legal and political decisions are often based upon the capacity to display and read DNA samples, 3D laser scans, nanotechnology, and the enhanced vision of electromagnetic microscopes and satellite surveillance. From mass graves to retinal scans, the topography of the seabed to the remnants of destroyed buildings, forensics is not only about the diagnostics, but also about the rhetoric of persuasion. The aesthetic dimension of forensics includes its means of presentation, the theatrics of its delivery, the forms of image and gesture. The forensic aesthetics of the present carries with it grave political and ethical implications, spreading its impact across socioeconomic, environmental, scientific, and cultural domains.

Etymologically, forensics refers to the “forum,” and to the practice and skill of making an argument before a professional, political, or legal gathering. Forensics has always been part of rhetoric, but its domain includes not only human speech but also that of objects. In forensic rhetoric, objects can address the forum. Because objects do not speak for themselves, there is a need for “translation” or “interpretation” – forensic rhetoric requires a person or a set of technologies to mediate between the object and the forum, to present the object, interpret it and place it within a larger net of relations.

The lectures and roundtable discussions by the participating artists, scholars and curators investigate these issues in a series of “forums” organized around a number of disputed objects.


  • Bridget Doherty
  • Anselm Franke
  • Grupa Spomenik / Monument Group (Damir Arsenijevic, Branimir Stojanovic, and Milica Tomić)
  • Eve Hinman
  • Amber Horning
  • Sara Jordeno
  • Thomas Keenan
  • Joanna Merwood-Salisbury
  • Jorge Otero-Pailos
  • Spyros Papapetros
  • Hugh Raffles
  • Susan Schuppli
  • Eric Stover
  • Norman Weiss
  • Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss
  • Eyal Weizman

Day 1 – Osteobiographies: Presentations
November 4 2011, 6pm-8pm
Cabinet magazine, 300 Nevins Street, Brooklyn

“Grave diggers” have, since the middle of the 1980s, been unearthing bones and turning burial sites into an epistemic resource from which the details of war crimes can be reconstructed and brought into the pale of the law. The practice of forensic teams, including archaeologists, anthropologists, pathologists, radiologists, dental experts, bio-data technicians, DNA specialists and statisticians of all sorts, mark a shift in emphasis from the living to the dead, from memory and trauma to empirical science, and from subjects to objects in accounting for atrocities.

Thomas Keenan, Bard College
Eyal Weizman, Goldsmiths, University of London

Eric Stover, writer and faculty director, The Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley
Grupa Spomenik / Monument Group: Damir Arsenijevic, Branimir Stojanovic, and Milica Tomić, Belgrade

Day 2 – Parading the Object: Three Roundtable Discussions
November 5 2011, 11:30am–6pm
The New School, Wollman Hall, 55 West 11th Street

The lectures and roundtable discussions by the participating artists, scholars and curators investigate these issues in a series of “forums” organized around a number of disputed objects. Organized as forum for people and things, the presentations are set in a theatrical arena arranged around a number of disputed objects. Introductions by Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman.

Roundtable I: Forensic Architecture
with Eyal Weizman, Eve Hinman, Jorge Otero-Pailos, and Norman Weiss

Buildings are both sensors and agents. They materialize political and economical forces, and also the events that befall them. Buildings undergo constant formal transformations in response to forces. They expand and contract with temperature and with the slow degeneration of their component materials, registering transformation in humidity, air quality, CO2 levels, salinity, seismic movements – and sometimes also the abrupt or violent events that target them or simply happen next to them. Some of these processes can be reconstructed through structural calculations, blast analyses, and the determination of the failure points of structures, details, and forms.

Roundtable II: Constructed Evidence – The Thing Makes Its Forum
with Susan Schuppli, Amber Horning, Sara Jordeno, Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, and Arne Svenson

What if the object is not a “witness” but an entity constructed for the express purpose of creating, or activating, the forum? Such an object might map the diffused networks of informal or illegal labor, or be called upon to narrate historical events in the absence of evidentiary materials. In fact, the object may be the very thing that produces a forum where none previously existed. An artwork likewise produces its constituency; it gathers, rather than simply assumes an already extant audience. If the object, conceptualized as such, is not that which registers the events that came before it in the manner of the classical witness, then it might be said the object itself becomes the event to which the forum as witness will address itself.

Roundtable III: Animism
with Anselm Franke, Bridget Doherty, Spyros Papapetros, and Hugh Raffles

In the habituated scheme of modernity, objects are conceived as the passive stuff on which human action leaves its imprint or trace. Whenever this passive/active nexus between objects and subject, humans and the non-human is disturbed or even reversed – as in the coming-to-life of seemingly dead matter, the becoming autonomous of inert things – we inevitably step into the territory of animism: that non-modern worldview that conceives of things as animated and possessing agency. With regards to Forensic Aesthetics, the historical discourse of animism provides a foil for a reflection on the boundaries at stake. This session examines a series of objects and liminal cases in which those borders are being destabilized or transgressed, from the crystal ball to educational objects from the 1920s, via the forensics of hair, to rocks.

Forensic Aesthetics: Closing Remarks
Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, Tyler School of Art, Architecture Department, Temple University

Legal Media

Legal Media:

A Colloquium in Memory of Cornelia Vismann

Goldsmiths, University of London

10-11 June 2011

A two-day colloquium organised by the Birkbeck School of Law and the Centre for Research Architecture / Forensic Architecture / Dept. of Visual Cultures.

The death, last year, of legal and media scholar Cornelia Vismann is grieved by two departments in which she spent time as a research fellow. She left friends and scholars with a unique intellectual legacy that spanned the disciplinary divides between art, literature, media, philosophy, architecture, and law. Rather than an interrogation of her work, this colloquium celebrates the intellectual life of Cornelia Vismann by bringing together a diverse set of participants – practitioners and scholars – to build upon and extend the ground breaking ideas and provocative discussions that her work has generated. Together we will try to evolve Vismann’s project and illuminate the inextricable connection between the law – its authority, its efficacy, its memory – and the medium of its transmission. The event is structured around three areas of investigation captured by three of her texts: Files on the obscure power of the legal files, Tele-Tribunalson the mediatization of legal hearings and The Love of Ruins on the discursive function of the fragment in writing and matter.

Organisers: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Piyel Haldar, Susan Schuppli, Eyal Weizman


Day 1 - Thomas Keenan
Day 1 - Anton Schutz
Day 2 - Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Day 1 - Irit Rogoff
Day 2 - Costas Douzinas
Day 2 - Judy Radul



The Forensic Dimension of Photography

Centre for Research Architecture, London

11 March 2011

Conference hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture (London) in collaboration with the Photo-Lexic International Research Group, Minerva Humanities Center (Tel Aviv University).

In the past two decades, photography as a discourse has undergone a fundamental upheaval. The invention of digital photography has affected the quantity, accessibility and nature of its products. The keen interest it has raised among researchers in different fields of knowledge – not experts in art or photography – has affected the ways it is now discussed. The internet as an immediate space for mobilizing and disseminating images has in turn created new uses of photography and reshaped existing ones. Only in the past two decades have many of the characteristics that have shaped photography since its birth in the late 1830s begun to register themselves explicitly by these changes.

In thinking about photography as products subject to the spectator’s gaze, as objects that speak and are spoken about, and as entities involved in modes of exchange through their production and use, it has become clear that a discussion of photography can no longer concern itself solely with its products – photographs and their producers as was the case within the historical discourse of art and photography. Photo-Lexic in conjunction with Research Architecture has set out to examine the ways in which people from artists to journalists, scientists to human rights activists participate in the expanded context of photography understood as a civil, not sovereign, practice. How do different disciplines and different practioners produce photographs, talk about them, view them, and use them?

In collaborating with the Centre for Research Architecture, this one-day conference brings the Photo-Lexic project into dialogue with some of the conceptual trajectories of the Forensic Architecture project to generate a lexicon of related terms. With its roots in the police laboratory work of Edmond Locard (1877-1966) forensic science was and still is indebted to a conception of evidence as necessarily performative, in that, judgments are passed based upon the translation of forensic findings into comprehensible and convincing narratives. While the Locard Exchange Principal, upon which this science is based insists that “every contact leaves a trace”, the Photo-Lexic project does not confine itself solely to the close scrutiny of visual objects as evidence of events (historical or unfolding), but rather retraces the relations between humans and things that are mediated by the photographic encounter itself. The field of potential “contact” is thus enlarged to include not only the original site or moment of the photographic capture but also the ways in which images migrate to activate other scenes and other narratives.

The Photo-Lexic Research Team (directed by Ariella Azoulay) is an international group of researchers from various fields of study: political science, philosophy, human-rights studies, curatorial studies, sociology, history, economics and law. The group is linked to the Lexicon Project directed by Adi Ophir (part of the Minerva Humanities Center), and takes part in the writing of lexical terms (published in the e-journal Mafteakh).


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Charles Heller
  • Jorella Andrews
  • Karen Mirza
  • Ben Burbridge
  • Susan Schuppli
  • Andy Fisher
  • Vikki Bell
  • Ariella Azoulay

Forensic Aesthetics at Staedelschule


Conference at Staedelschule, Frankfurt

January 12-14 2011

A series of seminars, workshops and public lectures with Eyal Weizman, Thomas Keenan, Hito Steyerl, Boris Buden, Anselm Franke, Gilles Peress, and Nikolaus Hirsch.

Forensic Aesthetics was a year-long open seminar taught by Thomas Keenan, Eyal Weizman, Nikolaus Hirsch and interdisciplinary guests. The seminar includes a theoretical component in which the analytical and theoretical terms pertaining to forensics will be developed; and a studio component that will allow students to develop and experiment with techniques of investigation and representations. The seminar will culminate in an exhibition and a conference.

Link to the Forensic Aesthetics programme at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste – Städelschule


  • Eyal Weizman
  • Thomas Keenan
  • Hito Steyerl
  • Boris Buden
  • Anselm Franke
  • Gilles Peress
  • Nikolaus Hirsch
Hito Steyerl
Anselm Franke
Godofredo Pereira
Boris Buden
Thomas Keenan
Gilles Peress