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Down to Earth

Down to Earth

What is our time? How do we measure it?

From the utopian Soviet project to live rationally with nature, to contemporary earth observation: human efforts to plan their environment rely on different forms and technologies of measurement, that negotiate increasingly complex relations with the dynamics of the earth.

The planetary strata are here measured along a trajectory that links remote sensing satellites, a vast geological repository, and a probe reaching the deepest point on the planet at 12 262 meters. Each measurement shapes new territorial assemblages of science and politics. The Kola Superdeep Borehole in the Russian Arctic was a mission to increase geophysical knowledge. It is here shown with contemporary inquiries into the core samples of the British Geological Survey, revealing the connections of human activities to the material traces of the recent history of the earth, searching for the new stratigraphic evidence of the Anthropocene.

Research Team

Anthropocene Observatory:

  • Armin Linke
  • Territorial Agency (John Palmesino, Ann-Sofi Rönnskog)
  • Anselm Franke

Team "Down to Earth"

  • Giulia Bruno
  • Saverio Cantoni
  • Tom Fox
  • Anselm Franke
  • Armin Linke
  • John Palmesino
  • Flavio Pescatori
  • Sarah Poppel
  • Renato Rinaldi
  • Ann-Sofi Rönnskog

 

#3 Down to Earth (single screen online version)

The Kola Peninsula

The Kola Superdeep Borehole is a vertical probe into the Baltic Shield, the largest area of the oldest rocks in Europe, eroded by the harsh climate. At its highest latitudes, well beyond the Arctic Circle, the Baltic Shield meets the Barents Shield, forming the Kola Peninsula, one of the richest areas of the planet in terms of mineral resources.

Exploitation of the vast mineral resources of the peninsula is the basis through which the Soviet Union developed their industrialisation project. It was through tight connections of development of scientific knowledge of geophysics of the region, and technology to develop industry, that the Soviets shaped their territorial architectures.

Dr David M. Guberman, the leader of the Kola Superdeep Borehole experiment, standing on the site of the future Kola SG-3 well. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Dr David M. Guberman, the leader of the Kola Superdeep Borehole experiment, standing on the site of the future Kola SG-3 well. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Noosphere

Driven by the large Soviet experiment to live rationally with nature, the territories of the Kola Peninsula have been invested by a large-scale plan to populate the Arctic and to establish the scientific base for the industrial exploitation of its resources.

The Kola Peninsula was one of the sites of a new experiment for a scientific sovereignty, one that reshaped connections between human actions and natural processes. The links between the biosphere, the atmosphere and the geosphere are here extended to the noosphere; the space of human thought conceptualised in the 1920s by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky. Vernadsky was the leader of KEPS – the commission for the study of natural productive forces of Russia.

Vernadsky and his colleague Aleksandr Evgenievich Fersman, who established the Kola Science Center – were the founders of the Russian school of geochemistry. Fersman was responsible for the programme to survey 20 million km2 of Soviet territory for mineral resources.

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, originator of the noosphere concept (left) with Alexander Yevgenyevich Fersman, founder of Kola Science Centre (right). Courtesy Kola Science Centre.

Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, originator of the noosphere concept (left) with Alexander Yevgenyevich Fersman, founder of Kola Science Centre (right). Courtesy Kola Science Centre.

La Biosphère, 1929 by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky

La Biosphère, 1929 by Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky

The Deepest Point on the Planet

The Norilsk Nickel mine in Zapolyarny, Murmansk Oblast, Kola Peninsula, Russia, at 69°23’47.27” N, 30°36’35.53” E, in the European Arctic, is the site of the Kola Superdeep Borehole. It was a major scientific experiment carried out by the Soviet Union, with the aim of drilling as far as possible into the Earth’s crust.

Drilling started on May 24, 1970 from the Uralmash-4E drilling rig, and continued until 1989, when the SG-3 borehole operating from the newer Uralmash-15000 rig reached the deepest point on Earth at 12,262 metres, deeper than the 10,915 metres of the Mariana Trench.

Aim of the mission was to investigate the Mohorovičić discontinuity, the boundary between the Earth’s crust and the mantle. During the mission, which spanned two decades, major scientific advancements in the understanding of the physics of the Earth were accomplished, leading to a substantial revision of geophysics.

Geophysical Service at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Geophysical Service at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Mineralized breccia phyllites, siltstones and sandstones from the depth of 1,675.5m.Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Mineralized breccia phyllites, siltstones and sandstones from the depth of 1,675.5m. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample extracted from Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample extracted from Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample lifting and extracting at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Core sample lifting and extracting at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Digital Elevation Model

This black and white image is formed through data derived by spaceborne synthetic aperture radar: SAR. This geodetic method is used to generate models of surface deformation or digital elevation.

The interferometric SAR method uses complex algorithms to produce a very narrow effective beam. The information on minute topographic variations can be produced only by moving sensors – as the satellites – and is a form of active remote sensing. The satellites’ antennas transmit radar radiations which are then reflected back by the surface of the Earth and detected by sophisticated sensors.

InSAR Synthetic Aperture Radar interferometric map of terrain variation, Kola Peninsula. Elevation data is processed from raw C-band radar signals spaced at intervals of 1 arc-second (approximately 30 metres) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL. Black lines refer to area of void or missing data, areas where initial algorithmic processing did not meet quality standards.USGS and NASA data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

InSAR Synthetic Aperture Radar interferometric map of terrain variation, Kola Peninsula. Elevation data is processed from raw C-band radar signals spaced at intervals of 1 arc-second (approximately 30 metres) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL. Black lines refer to area of void or missing data, areas where initial algorithmic processing did not meet quality standards.USGS and NASA data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

Landsat

The Landsat programme is the largest repository of Earth Observation data in history. Launched in 1972, its several satellites have recorded the radiations of the planet to document, survey and measure global environmental change.

Multiple sensors detect the physical and chemical qualities of the atmosphere and surface of the planet. The resulting data can be analysed and presented as an image. Detected through multispectral sensors, the images are the result of algo- rithmic operations on data. They can be approximations of the colours perceived by humans, or analytical images of multiple passes of the satellites, highlighting specific aspects of environmental change.

Satellite image of the Kola Superdeep Borehole site. Landsat 8 data acquired on 11 October 2013, shown in natural col- ours using the Operational Land Imager OLI spectral bands 4, 3 and 2. USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

Satellite image of the Kola Superdeep Borehole site. Landsat 8 data acquired on 11 October 2013, shown in natural col- ours using the Operational Land Imager OLI spectral bands 4, 3 and 2. USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

A multi-year analysis reveals vast changes in the impervious sur- faces of the terrain, largely coinciding with mining activities, mili- tary equipment and infrastructure, and urban settlements. Multispectral analysis of USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

A multi-year analysis reveals vast changes in the impervious sur- faces of the terrain, largely coinciding with mining activities, mili- tary equipment and infrastructure, and urban settlements. Multispectral analysis of USGS data, elaborated by Territorial Agency.

Space Race

The vast experiments undertaken to observe the geological workings of the Earth were mirrored in the Space Race: Americans and Soviets were simultaneously trying to reach the minerals of the Moon and the deepest points on Earth. While it was the USA that first touched ground on the Moon, the Kola Superdeep Borehole outpaced the American attempts to reach deep down into the Earth’s crust and the high-technology involved allowed for a striking series of scientific accomplishments.

The north-eastern extension of the Baltic Shield – the Kola Peninsula was the Cold War border, the point where the Iron Curtain and the Early Warning System for intercontinental ballistic missiles scanning the Arctic met. It was a territory marked by escalation strategies and second-strike retaliation analysis.

A border divided in military, economic and political terms, yet linked by a common rationale based on calculus, simulation and the closed system of scientific technological development.

Control room, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Control room, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Ivanovic Vladimir Khmelinsky, private archive.

Preparation of equipment for inclinometer (measurement of bore- hole inclination/deviation), 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Preparation of equipment for inclinometer (measurement of bore- hole inclination/deviation), 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Geophysical Laboratory at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Geophysical Laboratory at Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Earth Observation

Add Content hereThe coevolution of the Space Race and the quest to reach the deepest point of the planet traces a vertical space of measurement, sensing and modelling. It is a space operated through a ‘vast machine’ of sensors and computers of climate change science and integrated system analysis.

Remote sensing satellites orbit the planet and record the intensity of radiation reflected by the atmosphere and the surface of land, ice, and oceans, measuring stations are scattered on the waters of the oceans, seismic surveying stations are deployed across the globe. Information about physical, chemical and biological systems is measured by remote sensors and collected, stored, distributed and analysed.

Earth Observation systems form a vast global archive of data used to assess, monitor and intervene into the dynamics and transformation of the planet. The Earth System, they contribute to analyse, is shaped by the algorithmic procedures of modelling as much as by the technological frameworks of measurement and surveying.

Chief Geologist M.G. Rusanov (sitting) at the Geological Depart- ment, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Chief Geologist M.G. Rusanov (sitting) at the Geological Depart- ment, Kola SG-3, 1980s. Courtesy Murmansk Regional Museum.

Stratigraphic Evidence

The National Geological Repository at Keyworth in England operates one of the largest scientific resources on geology. Part of the British Geological Survey, it forms one of the largest collections of borehole cores, cuttings, samples, specimens and subsurface information from the landmass and the continental shelf of the UK.

It originates in the Museum of Economic Geology, and its follower the Museum of Practical Geology, enterprises set up to link the rising industrial revolution in Britain with the development of scientific knowledge and new forms of government and imperial sovereignty.

Today, many members of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Stratigraphic Commission, operating at the repository, inquire into the material forms and traces of human actions. They investigate the afterlives, the unequal durations, ages and rhythms of the industrial attempts to form direct connections between scientific knowledge and an intensified nature.

Museum of Practical Geology, London in 1851. Courtesy British Geological Survey Archives.

Museum of Practical Geology, London in 1851. Courtesy British Geological Survey Archives.

Atacama

ATACAMA

The case is located at the Atacama Desert in Chile in which the relation between nature and politics is reconfigured by resource extraction. Working together with local NGOs, the project has provided material and spatial evidence in support of indigenous communities of the Loa basin whose means of subsistence has been destroyed by copper mining. Dispossessed of water and suffering from increasing environmental contamination, these communities are slowly disappearing in the wake of ever-expanding mineral extraction. As a close study of Chuquicamata—the largest open pit copper mine in the world and a symbol of deposed president Salvador Allende’s nationalization project—the project attempts to demonstrate how resource extraction is key to understanding the long history of violence to which local peoples have been exposed. Utilizing a range of remote sensing technologies has turned the surface of the desert into a register of past and present forms of violence. The project registered the way in which the quest to exploit underground resources has led to the destruction of both environments and people.

Researcher

Godofredo Pereira

In partnership with

Alonso Barros (Lawyer)

Copper

The history of the Atacama has been characterized by different cycles of mineral extraction, particularly nitrate and copper. The control of nitrate, exploited from the nineteenth century onwards, was one of the reasons for the Pacific War of 1879–83 in which Chile occupied the Atacama Desert, annexing the territory from Bolivia and Peru. It also led to the civil war that in 1891 saw President Balmaceda committing suicide after failing to nationalize the nation’s resources. The nationalization of copper mines was the economic basis for Salvador Allende’s plans to make Chile economically independent. It was therefore one of the reasons for the coup that would topple his democratically elected government in 1973 and lead to his own suicide. In contrast to the image of a perpetual El Dorado, the race for resources in the Atacama, from guano to nitrate, from copper to lithium, resulted in environmental contamination and in the dispossession of indigenous peoples.

“Chile Uses Nitrate to ‘Buy American.’” 1946 color print advertisement for the National City Bank of New York.

“Chile Uses Nitrate to ‘Buy American.’” 1946 color print advertisement for the National City Bank of New York.

Photo of Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro visiting Chuquicamata copper mine. He would later compare the mine to the pyramids in Egypt. November 14, 1971.

Photo of Cuban prime minister Fidel Castro visiting Chuquicamata copper mine. He would later compare the mine to the pyramids in Egypt. November 14, 1971.

Footage of Chuquicamata copper mine and the indigenous villages of San Francisco de Chiu Chiu and Quillagua, which have been affected by water shortages, vegetation decrease, and environmental contamination due to mining operations.
Extracts from the Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile, 1971. Approved in the first year of Salvador Allende’s presidency, this constitutional reform allowed for the nationalization of Chile’s copper resources.

Extracts from the Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile, 1971. Approved in the first year of Salvador Allende’s presidency, this constitutional reform allowed for the nationalization of Chile’s copper resources.

The urbanization of the Atacama Desert by mining. Image: Godofredo Pereira.

The urbanization of the Atacama Desert by mining.
Image: Godofredo Pereira.

Bones

With close to zero humidity, the Atacama is one of the most arid places in the world, where human remains can be preserved for thousands of years. But despite its vast archeological findings from the pre-Hispanic era, the presence of bones in the Atacama is also the result of a more recent history of violence. After the 1973 coup d’état, a military group commanded by Arellano Stark was ordered by General Pinochet to embark on a tour around the country “expediting” judicial processes. The result of this “caravan of death” was multiple mass graves, many of them in the Atacama, filled with the bodies of political detainees. Their discovery is made all the more difficult by military operations in the area where these remains were exhumed, meaning that bodies had been blown up, scattered around the desert, or thrown into the sea. Forensic sciences have been able to identify some of the victims based on small bone fragments, but most of the disappeared are still uncounted for.

Coup d’état, September, 11, 1973. From: Ciencia, Justicia, Verdad, Memoria, a publication by Agrupación de Familiares de Los Detenidos Ejecutados y Desaparecidos de La Moneda and Museo de La Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos. August 2012.

Coup d’état, September, 11, 1973. From: Ciencia, Justicia, Verdad, Memoria, a publication by Agrupación de Familiares de Los Detenidos Ejecutados y Desaparecidos de La Moneda and Museo de La Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos. August 2012.

Declassified memorandum Genesis of Project FUBELT, September 16, 1970. Also known as Track II, FUBELT consisted of US funding and support to prevent Salvador Allende from being elected president of Chile and was later used to aid the coup on September 11, 1971 by military forces under the command of Pinochet.

Declassified memorandum Genesis of Project FUBELT, September 16, 1970. Also known as Track II, FUBELT consisted of US funding and support to prevent Salvador Allende from being elected president of Chile and was later used to aid the coup on September 11, 1971 by military forces under the command of Pinochet.

Report by the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. Established after the return to democracy in 1991, this commission focused on human rights violations during the years of Pinochet’s military regime. Translation by United States Institute of Peace.

Report by the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. Established after the return to democracy in 1991, this commission focused on human rights violations during the years of Pinochet’s military regime.
Translation by United States Institute of Peace.

Interview with Dr. Patricio Bustos, director of Chile’s medico-legal service (SML), on the exhumation of President Salvador Allende and the search for disappeared detainees. March 2013.
Multispectral image from 2013 focusing on an area 5 km south of Calama where marks resemble a 2 km-long curved dagger, the infamous corvo characteristically used by the Chilean military to slit the throat of foreign enemies. © 2013 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All Rights Reserved. False color composite: Godofredo Pereira.

Multispectral image from 2013 focusing on an area 5 km south of Calama where marks resemble a 2 km-long curved dagger, the infamous corvo characteristically used by the Chilean military to slit the throat of foreign enemies.
© 2013 DigitalGlobe, Inc. All Rights Reserved. False color composite: Godofredo Pereira.

Declassified cable on Operation Condor, FBI, September 28, 1976. Operation Condor consisted of a joint intelligence operation between the South American military dictatorships of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolívia, Paraguay, and Uruguay and was supported by US intelligence.

Declassified cable on Operation Condor, FBI, September 28, 1976. Operation Condor consisted of a joint intelligence operation between the South American military dictatorships of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolívia, Paraguay, and Uruguay and was supported by US intelligence.

Microsoft Word - Chile90-Report.doc

Report by the Chilean National Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. Translation by United States Institute of Peace.

Arsenic

As a transversal agent of contamination, arsenic foregrounds both the potentials and the perils inherent to exploiting the Earth’s resources. As a by-product of copper mining, arsenic reflects the immense wealth that lies beneath the ground in the Atacama. But the urbanization of the desert by mining has brought entire populations into a volcanic environment whose waters are naturally contaminated. Moreover, its continuous release into the air, water, and soils has affected not only those in the vicinity of Chuquicamata copper mine but also populations affected by emissions from smelter operations throughout Chile.

Map of environmental contamination sources in the area of Chuquicamata and San Francisco de Chiu Chiu.  Godofredo Pereira, 2013.

Map of environmental contamination sources in the area of Chuquicamata and San Francisco de Chiu Chiu.
Godofredo Pereira, 2013.

Extracts from the report on the expansion of the Talabre tailings pond by Alonso Barros and Godofredo Pereira, Atacama Desert Project, Forensic Architecture, September 2013. Presented by the community of San Francisco de Chiu Chiu during the process of indigenous consultation on the Chilean national copper corporation Codelco’s mining expansion project RT Sulfuros.

Extracts from the report on the expansion of the Talabre tailings pond by Alonso Barros and Godofredo Pereira, Atacama Desert Project, Forensic Architecture, September 2013. Presented by the community of San Francisco de Chiu Chiu during the process of indigenous consultation on the Chilean national copper corporation Codelco’s mining expansion project RT Sulfuros.

Expansion of the Talabre tailings pond (measuring sixty-five square kilometers), where liquid waste resulting from the processing of Chuquicamata’s copper is deposited. Photo: Godofredo Pereira, September 2013.

Expansion of the Talabre tailings pond (measuring sixty-five square kilometers), where liquid waste resulting from the processing of Chuquicamata’s copper is deposited.
Photo: Godofredo Pereira, September 2013.

Expansion of the Talabre tailings pond (measuring sixty-five square kilometers), where liquid waste resulting from the processing of Chuquicamata’s copper is deposited. Photo: Godofredo Pereira, September 2013.

Expansion of the Talabre tailings pond. Photo: Godofredo Pereira, September 2013.

Extracts from the report on the expansion of the Talabre tailings pond by Alonso Barros and Godofredo Pereira, Atacama Desert Project, Forensic Architecture, September 2013. Presented by the community of San Francisco de Chiu Chiu during the process of indigenous consultation on the Chilean national copper corporation Codelco’s mining expansion project RT Sulfuros.

Extracts from the report on the expansion of the Talabre tailings pond by Alonso Barros and Godofredo Pereira, Atacama Desert Project, Forensic Architecture, September 2013. Presented by the community of San Francisco de Chiu Chiu during the process of indigenous consultation on the Chilean national copper corporation Codelco’s mining expansion project RT Sulfuros.

Water

Mining operations require water for mineral processing, dust suppression, and drinking. Implemented during the military dictatorship, the 1981 Water Code separated the ownership of water from the ownership of land, allowing it to be freely bought and sold with little regard for the adverse effects upon the surrounding environment. The use of water for mining purposes enhanced its scarcity, making the lives of indigenous communities unsustainable and resulting in a drastic population decrease in proximity to the mines. As a vital resource for indigenous communities and mining operations, in the Atacama region water has become simultaneously a central object of conflict and the very means by which conflict takes place.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte. Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte.
Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte. Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte.
Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

NDVI analysis by Jim Norton (GISCorps) indicating a clear decrease in vegetation over the last forty years. Atacama Desert Project, July 2013.

NDVI analysis by Jim Norton (GISCorps) indicating a clear decrease in vegetation over the last forty years.
Atacama Desert Project, July 2013.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte. Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte.
Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte. Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

Abandoned village in Quebrada de Mani, downstream from Quebrada Blanca copper mine, Pozo Almonte.
Photo: Gonzalo Pimentel, 2013.

Kivalina

KIVALINA

Kivalina is an Iñupiaq village of 400 people situated on a barrier island in the Arctic, on the northwest coast of Alaska. In recent years global warming has been postponing the formation of sea ice, exposing the shore to autumnal sea storms and thus placing the existence of Kivalina increasingly under threat. The lack of basic infrastructure, compounded by erosion and flooding, have pushed the village to seek relocation.

In 2006 Kivalina sued the twenty-four largest oil and gas corporations, maintaining that they should be held accountable for the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore contribute to relocation costs. Following the failure of the legal forum to address Kivalina’s claims and the standstill of governmental relocation attempts, the Modelling Kivalina group traveled to Alaska to conduct a series of interviews with village residents, scientists, and political representatives.

Researchers

Modelling Kivalina:

  • Andrea Bagnato
  • Daniel Fernández Pascual
  • Helene Kazan
  • Hannah Meszaros Martin
  • Alon Schwabe

Collaborating Organisation

"Kivalina, "the Coming Storm" - Video documentary

Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation et al. Opinion by Judge Sidney R. Thomas, US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in which Kivalina’s appeal is rejected.

Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation et al.
Opinion by Judge Sidney R. Thomas, US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in which Kivalina’s appeal is rejected.

Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation et al. Opinion by Judge Sidney R. Thomas.

Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation et al.
Opinion by Judge Sidney R. Thomas.

Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation et al. Opinion by Judge Sidney R. Thomas.

Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corporation et al.
Opinion by Judge Sidney R. Thomas.

Oral argument at the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit San Francisco, November 28, 2011
Excerpts:

[1:18] “This case presents the question of whether a federally recognized Native American tribe and Alaskan municipality may proceed past the pleading stage with their damages lawsuit—a lawsuit seeking damages from defendants for their significant emissions of greenhouse gases and for the conspiratorial actions of some of those same defendants whom we allege engaged in agreement to continue their tortious conduct. There is a fundamental principle of public nuisance law that underlies this case, and it is essential to resolving the questions of displacement—a political question—and that principle is that when you sue in public nuisance for a damages case, particularly one seeking damages for severe harm, you don’t need to engage in a balancing of the utility of the defendants’ conduct against the harm to the plaintiff.” Matt Pawa, plaintiff attorney for the native village of Kivalina.

[12:10] “State Courts […] that have been hearing cases of severe harm, like the Wisconsin Court hearing the Jost case or Emerald Mines in the North Carolina case, have found that when you have a plaintiff whose property is being severely harmed by the defendant, the pollution and the conduct is not a license to harm even though under balancing test you might let it continue. But it is unreasonable not to compensate the plaintiff and the plaintiff here is being completely wiped out, and under that law it is very clear that the plaintiff need not demonstrate that the value of Kivalina is greater than the value of fossil fuels. I mean, I think it is clear it’s not.” Matt Pawa, plaintiff attorney for the native village of Kivalina.

[35:30] “The problem here is not that they pleaded too little but they pleaded too much. I mean, their allegations are quite candid as to what it is that they are doing here. They don’t say that they can in fact do any kind of retraceability, they say it all gets filtered through a globally mediated system that mixes everything together and eliminates traceability, and then injuries pop out on the other side. So when you’ve made that kind of an allegation, everything else that we’ve argued legally flows from that, and it’s not so much an issue that they didn’t plead enough facts. And that’s why a leave to amend would have been futile in this case.” Daniel Collins (Munger, Tolles, & Olson), defendants’ attorney.

Arsenic

ARSENIC

This project follows arsenic—one of the deadliest earth poisons, whose identification was most crucial to the formation of the forensic science of toxicology—in order to explore complex entanglements of natural and human violence. Case studies range from murder trials in Victorian England to environmental poisonings in Bangladesh and West Papua. The project claims that in contemporary times the entanglement of natural and political violence is so extreme that forensic investigations must look at complex and diffused structures of causality. It is in response to these entangled causalities, involving human and nonhuman actors alike, that the legal forums of the future must emerge.

Researcher

Nabil Ahmed

Prologue

The cyclone captured in the iconic “Blue Marble” image taken by the crew on the Apollo mission in November 1972 came to stand for the entanglement between natural and political violence in Bangladesh’s war of national liberation, Nasa’s Landsat satellite program, the launch of the Green revolution as a neocolonial system of agriculture around the world, as well as a record of how cyclones can return as affect.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=IDeTdFy7Vss%26showinfo%3D0

Bhola cyclone

The Bhola cyclone plays a major role in the modern history of Bangladesh. It was one of the worst natural disasters recorded in human history. In November 12, 1970, it devastated Bangladesh’s coastal zones and killed, according to some estimates, half a million people. Trying to subdue separatist sentiments, the ruling government in West Pakistan mishandled the relief effort and on March 24, 1971 launched a military offensive on Bengali civilians that escalated into what is called the Mukti Judho (War of National Liberation) in Bangladesh. The military and its collaborators were later accused of the genocide of three million people, a violence that still haunts the nation today.

Although the war and genocide remain central to the political imagination of every Bangladeshi, the role of the cyclone remains largely unknown. More than just catalyzing the sequence of events that led to the birth of the Bangladeshi state, the cyclone and genocide led to the reconceptualization of the tool of contemporary humanitarianism. It saw two new types of response that are still with us: on the one hand the humanitarian rock concert, and on the other, military intervention propounded as a means to stop genocide.

Satellite image of the cyclone before it made landfall, taken by the ITOS 1 satellite on November 11, 1970.

Satellite image of the cyclone before it made landfall, taken by the ITOS 1 satellite on November 11, 1970.

A cyclone shelter in Cox’s Bazaar, Chittagong and a radio operator of the Cyclone Preparedness Program. The coastline is dotted with these shelters, representing humanitarian architecture in the battle against a deadly planet Earth. Image: Nabil Ahmed, 2013.

A cyclone shelter in Cox’s Bazaar, Chittagong and a radio operator of the Cyclone Preparedness Program. The coastline is dotted with these shelters, representing humanitarian architecture in the battle against a deadly planet Earth.
Image: Nabil Ahmed, 2013.

Interview with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1971 calling for a military intervention on humanitarian grounds in support of Bangladesh. India entered the conflict on December 3, 1971. BBC, 1971.

There was immense destruction of physical infrastructure in Bangladesh in 1972 following the war of independence. The same year saw the launch of a new land survey satellite, LANDSAT 1, for the acquisition of satellite imagery of Earth. One of its first applications was to rationalize the Green Revolution by reading land cover changes for crop and water management. Aimed at solving the world’s food shortage, this was a US-led global agricultural program that the Americans hoped would pacify the planet’s poor and prevent uprisings.

The hands of Dr. Hasan holding a recently exhumed skull from a mass grave in Dhaka. Dr. Hasan is the convener of the Bangladesh War Crimes Fact Finding Committee who led the only forensic investigation into the mass killings. In the accompanying interview conducted in Dhaka in June 2012, Dr. Hasan described his practice as a forensic investigator. His investigations were crucial in producing the list of those accused in the war crimes trials that are currently taking place in Bangladesh. Photo: courtesy of Dr. M. A. Hassan

The hands of Dr. Hasan holding a recently exhumed skull from a mass grave in Dhaka. Dr. Hasan is the convener of the Bangladesh War Crimes Fact Finding Committee who led the only forensic investigation into the mass killings. In the accompanying interview conducted in Dhaka in June 2012, Dr. Hasan described his practice as a forensic investigator. His investigations were crucial in producing the list of those accused in the war crimes trials that are currently taking place in Bangladesh.
Photo: courtesy of Dr. M. A. Hassan

Yahya Khan, the president of Pakistan who would order the killing of a civilian population of ethnic Bengalis four months after this photo was taken, surveying the devastation of the Bhola cyclone from his helicopter on November 15, 1970. Daily Purbodesh. National Archive of Bangladesh. Image: Nabil Ahmed, 2013.

Yahya Khan, the president of Pakistan who would order the killing of a civilian population of ethnic Bengalis four months after this photo was taken, surveying the devastation of the Bhola cyclone from his helicopter on November 15, 1970.
Daily Purbodesh. National Archive of Bangladesh. Image: Nabil Ahmed, 2013.

Freedom fighters led a guerilla war for independence until hostilities ceased on December 16, 1971, when the Pakistani military command surrendered to the allied forces.
Animation of arsenic contamination at a territorial scale showing spatial variability in arsenic concentration from <0.25 μg to 1660 μg. The highest arsenic concentrations are shown to be in the alluvial and deltaic sediments.

 

Arsenic

Arsenic is the perfect poison because the traces it leaves behind are hard to detect. Complicating the matter was the fact that in Victorian times, it was present in a domestic setting, especially in wallpaper and paint. The toxic Victorian house has metaphorically and literally anticipated the large-scale environmental contaminations of the present.

Medical jurisprudence, forensic medicine and toxicology

The Marsh test apparatus was developed by the chemist James Marsh in 1836 to detect arsenic traces that provided the first applications of forensic toxicology used as evidence in court. These nineteenth century toxicological drawings and microscopic images show some of the processes of visualizing the geology of an invisible killer inside the human body. Environmental geologists later used forensic apparatus such as the Marsh Test as models for developing tests to detect arsenic in the soil and earth. Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Reproduction of lithographic plates and illustrations. Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, 1877 and 1893. Legal Medicine and Toxicology, 1909.

Earth poison

In 1972, Bangladesh emerged as a new state after the cyclone and national war of liberation. Following the war, UNICEF, inspired by the Green Revolution, undertook a major public health engineering project that aimed to provide safe drinking water by drilling millions of hand pumps. Over subsequent years, constructing private tube wells became normative practice. Although considered a major success, it exposed a significant part of the population to ground water aquifers (underground layers of permeable rock, sediment, or soil that yield water) rich in arsenic. Several decades on, the gradual environmental damage continues to have an impact upon populations in both Bangladesh and West Bengal. The same state and humanitarian players implicated in causing this damage are now charged with dealing with its consequences. Binod Sutradhar was the lead claimant in Sudtradhar v. NERC, the only legal case brought against the British Geological Survey and the National Environmental Research Council by a group of NGOs and lawyers who were seeking redress for the victims of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh. They attempted to sue for negligence in failing to test for arsenic in Sutradhar’s well water in 1992. The BGS technical report was used by the state to draw up a national water policy that did not include arsenic testing.

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Seven water samples and their arsenic concentration taken from the area surrounding Binod Sutradhar’s house in Ramrail village, Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh in July 2013. The water samples are the main focus for a set of interviews conducted with the activists and lawyers who led the case, Sharmeen Murshid of non-governmental organization Brotee and Shubhaa Srinivasan of law firm Leigh Day.

Seven water samples and their arsenic concentration taken from the area surrounding Binod Sutradhar’s house in Ramrail village, Brahmanbaria, Bangladesh in July 2013. The water samples are the main focus for a set of interviews conducted with the activists and lawyers who led the case, Sharmeen Murshid of non-governmental organization Brotee and Shubhaa Srinivasan of law firm Leigh Day.

The Grasberg Mine

Arsenic is a main by-product of copper mining. One of the most devastating contemporary examples of territorial arsenic-related environmental poisoning is from the Grasberg mine. Containing the world’s largest gold and copper reserves, it is located high in the mountains of West Papua, a troubled province of Indonesia with an ongoing indigenous independence movement. The mine is at the heart of the ancestral land of the Amungme and the Komoro, two of the many ethnically Melanesian indigenous peoples that make up Papua. Freeport PT Indonesia, a subsidiary of the US mining company Freeport McMoRan, began a large-scale mining project in West Papua while Papuan territory was still the subject of dispute with the Dutch in the 1960s. Handed over several years before the so-called 1969 “Act of Free Choice,” the Freeport Grasberg mine came to both symbolize and act as a site of conflict for the annexation of indigenous territories. Using remote sensing technologies, the project seeks to unpack the complex processes of territorial poisoning emanating from the Grasberg mine.

The ruins of Devon Great Consols copper mine in Tavistock, Devon. Once the richest copper mine in Europe, between 1844 and 1903 the mine produced half of the world’s arsenic. Arsenic was widely used in Victorian Britain and throughout the world in textile industries, domestic environments, and agriculture.

The ruins of Devon Great Consols copper mine in Tavistock, Devon. Once the richest copper mine in Europe, between 1844 and 1903 the mine produced half of the world’s arsenic. Arsenic was widely used in Victorian Britain and throughout the world in textile industries, domestic environments, and agriculture.

The Grasberg mine, at 4,100 m above sea level, is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine on Earth.

The Grasberg mine, at 4,100 m above sea level, is the largest gold mine and the third largest copper mine on Earth.

Grasberg Mine

Grasberg Mine

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UNTEA symbol overprinted on existing Dutch New Guinea stamps, 1962.

UNTEA symbol overprinted on existing Dutch New Guinea stamps, 1962.

UNTEA symbol overprinted on existing Dutch New Guinea stamps, 1962.

UNTEA symbol overprinted on existing Dutch New Guinea stamps, 1962.

Time magazine, July 15, 1966. After an anti-communist purge that killed more than 500,000 people and led to the overthrow of Sukarno, the founding president of the Indonesian Republic, General Suharto came to power and established the “New Order” (in Indonesian the Orde Baru). Under the New Order economic policy of attracting foreign investment formulated by the “Berkeley Mafia,” a group of Indonesian economists trained at the University of Berkeley, the natural resources sector was the first to open up, and the first company to sign a contract of work with Indonesia was Freeport McMoRan.

Time magazine, July 15, 1966. After an anti-communist purge that killed more than 500,000 people and led to the overthrow of Sukarno, the founding president of the Indonesian Republic, General Suharto came to power and established the “New Order” (in Indonesian the Orde Baru). Under the New Order economic policy of attracting foreign investment formulated by the “Berkeley Mafia,” a group of Indonesian economists trained at the University of Berkeley, the natural resources sector was the first to open up, and the first company to sign a contract of work with Indonesia was Freeport McMoRan.

Grasberg Mine

Grasberg Mine

The violence of mine tailing from the Grasberg mine in the Timika region, West Papua, Indonesia. This LANDSAT 8 false color composite display shows how an area of 293,000 hectares, including the Otomina and Ajkwa rivers, which spill into the Arafura Sea, is used as a geotechnical system for tailing deposition. The journey of the toxic waste begins at over 4,000 m above sea level and leads down to the lowland estuaries, crossing eight different ecologies over a distance of 100 km. Over 200,000 metric tons of tailings flow through the river per day into this area, containing highly toxic arsenic, copper, cadmium, and selenium. The image shows the urbanization and militarization of the forest and mining area, as well as tropical and mangrove deforestation.

The violence of mine tailing from the Grasberg mine in the Timika region, West Papua, Indonesia. This LANDSAT 8 false color composite display shows how an area of 293,000 hectares, including the Otomina and Ajkwa rivers, which spill into the Arafura Sea, is used as a geotechnical system for tailing deposition. The journey of the toxic waste begins at over 4,000 m above sea level and leads down to the lowland estuaries, crossing eight different ecologies over a distance of 100 km. Over 200,000 metric tons of tailings flow through the river per day into this area, containing highly toxic arsenic, copper, cadmium, and selenium. The image shows the urbanization and militarization of the forest and mining area, as well as tropical and mangrove deforestation.

In 1962 West Irian was declared the first UN protectorate, in order to appease a territorial dispute between the Dutch Government and its former colony, the newly formed Republic of Indonesia. The UNTEA (United Nations Temporary Executive Authority) sent a peacekeeping force of 1,500 Pakistani troops. These very soldiers later fought in the war against Bengali nationalists and India in 1971. Pakistani soldiers guard a radio tower in Hollandia (present-day Jayapura). Photo: UN, 1962.

In 1962 West Irian was declared the first UN protectorate, in order to appease a territorial dispute between the Dutch Government and its former colony, the newly formed Republic of Indonesia. The UNTEA (United Nations Temporary Executive Authority) sent a peacekeeping force of 1,500 Pakistani troops. These very soldiers later fought in the war against Bengali nationalists and India in 1971. Pakistani soldiers guard a radio tower in Hollandia (present-day Jayapura). Photo: UN, 1962.

Pakistani UN Force on West Irian stamp, printed in three languages: English, Urdu, and Bengali.

Pakistani UN Force on West Irian stamp, printed in three languages: English, Urdu, and Bengali.

UN Resolution 2504 (XXIV) adopted by the General Assembly during its twenty-fourth session in 1969 outlining the agreement between the Republic of Indonesia and the Netherlands concerning West New Guinea (West Irian). The UN resolution notes the “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 when selected Papuan indigenous leaders were coerced to vote in favor of joining Indonesia in a display staged for UN observers.

UN Resolution 2504 (XXIV) adopted by the General Assembly during its twenty-fourth session in 1969 outlining the agreement between the Republic of Indonesia and the Netherlands concerning West New Guinea (West Irian). The UN resolution notes the “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 when selected Papuan indigenous leaders were coerced to vote in favor of joining Indonesia in a display staged for UN observers.

In the Stomach of the Dragon, Survival International and Small World Productions. Shot undercover and in secret inside West Papua in the 1990s, this film exposes atrocities committed by the Indonesian military against the Amungme and documents the environmental impact of the Grasberg copper and gold mine. Courtesy of Small World Productions.

Climate Crimes

CLIMATE CRIMES

Two accusations of genocide in the Sahel: The first issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2008 regarding war crimes in Sudan; the second issued 2009 by the Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di-Aping directed at the world’s developed nations. The first favors the West. The second deflects and returns the claim and thereby it raises the specter of a new form of violence. This work tests what it would take to support Di-Aping’s claim and in doing so raises a number of questions about the violence wrought by climate change, especially the forums in which it is debated and eventually legitimized.

What will be the role of forensic climatology in reconnecting the causes of environmental violence with their effects? And what will be the political consequences? Drawing on recent scientific research that shows a correlation between aerosol emission in the northern hemisphere and desertification in the Sahel, this project makes visible a new geopolitical cartography that ties together distant fates, linking industrialization in the North to deprivation in the South. In this way, it demonstrates that Di-Aping’s claim is a legitimate one.

Researcher

Adrian Lahoud

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Di-Aping

In 2009, a new era of violence was announced. Climate forums like the COP are part of an attempt by the world’s most developed nations to legitimize the colonization of the sky, inaugurating a new age of economic warfare waged through the atmosphere and against some of the most vulnerable people on Earth. Here, two videos and two documents are brought together in order to raise a series of questions about anthropocenic violence and the forums that legitimize it. Drawing on recent scientific research that shows a correlation between aerosol emission in the northern hemisphere and desertification in the Sahel, it makes visible a new geopolitical cartography that ties together distant fates, linking industrialization in the North to deprivation in the South. In this context, can we begin to think about forums like the COP as crime scenes?

The “Danish text” is the draft of a proposed agreement established between the most developed nations in which a commitment is made to keep the global average temperature increase to two degrees Celsius. As many scientists have agreed, this would mean a catastrophic rise of 3.5 degrees in many parts of the African landmass, leading to widespread desertification, exacerbating existing conflicts, and eventually leading to annual mortality rates estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

The “Danish text” is the draft of a proposed agreement established between the most developed nations in which a commitment is made to keep the global average temperature increase to two degrees Celsius. As many scientists have agreed, this would mean a catastrophic rise of 3.5 degrees in many parts of the African landmass, leading to widespread desertification, exacerbating existing conflicts, and eventually leading to annual mortality rates estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir Arrest warrant issued from The Hague by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, alleging that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir systematically attempted to eradicate the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit peoples of Darfur. The charges in the warrant include war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir. Arrest warrant issued from The Hague by the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, alleging that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir systematically attempted to eradicate the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit peoples of Darfur. The charges in the warrant include war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Camera phone video footage of the Lumumba Di-Aping press conference during the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen (COP 15) in 2009. As lead negotiator for the G77 representing 132 of the poorest nations on Earth, Di-Aping denounced the “Danish proposal” tabled during COP 15 for “colonizing the sky,” claiming that it would condemn millions in Africa to “certain death” and “climate genocide.”

The “Danish text” is the draft of a proposed agreement established between the most developed nations in which a commitment is made to keep the global average temperature increase to two degrees Celsius.

The “Danish text” is the draft of a proposed agreement established between the most developed nations in which a commitment is made to keep the global average temperature increase to two degrees Celsius.

Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir

Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir.

Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir.

Arrest Warrant for Omar al-Bashir.

Disputed Sunset

DISPUTED SUNSET

“Can the sun lie?” asked a US court in 1886 when reflecting upon the truth claims of photographic evidence. However, as photographic practices became more commonplace and awareness of the ease of image manipulation increased, so too did doubts about their evidentiary value. Soon, photographic experts began to face each other in court and a new order of certainty appeared, produced by the domain of expertise.

In the Canadian Arctic the sun is setting many kilometers further west along the horizon and the stars are no longer where they should be. Sunlight is behaving differently in this part of the world as the warming Arctic air causes temperature inversions and throws the setting sun off-kilter. The longstanding dispute between lay knowledge and scientific expertise is forcefully reanimated by current climate change debates, particularly with respect to indigenous storytelling traditions. This is a reordering of expertise and its claims to truth that turn on the evidence proffered by nature itself.

Researcher

Susan Schuppli

 

"Can the Sun Lie?" – Video documentary

 

 

Cases

Guatemala: Operacion Sofia

GUATEMALA: OPERACION SOFIA

Environmental violence and genocide in the Ixil Triangle

The violence inflicted by Guatemalan state security forces — both military and military-organized civil militias — on the Ixil Maya people in the El Quiché region of West Guatemala (1978–84) amounted, according to Guatemala’s Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) to “acts of genocide.” But genocide is not always only the killing of people, for it also includes “environmental violence”: the destruction of the natural and built environment as part of a military strategy.

This investigation attempts to read the environment not just as the location of conflict, but as the means by which it unfolds. This research formed a report produced on behalf of the prosecution in the case of genocide committed against the Ixil people. Our research was included in a series of trials taking place in Guatemala, including the retrial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt in the National Court of Guatemala and in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Forensic Architecture team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Paulo Tavares (research & coordination)
  • Daniel Fernández-Pascual (research)
  • Hannah Meszaros Martin (research)
  • Maya Cueva Franco (research)

SITU Research team

  • Bradley Samuels (Managing Partner)
  • Akshay Mehra (research)
  • Charles Perrault (research)

Collaborating Organisations

  • CALDH – Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (Rodrigo Salvadó and Edwin Cannil)
  • ODHAG – Oficina de Derechos Huamanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (Raul Najera and Ana Carolina)

Interactive Platform

Forensic Architecture’s research on environmental violence was designed to complement other studies of the conflict. In order to demonstrate the multifaceted nature of environmental violence, our research was presented in the form of a web-based interactive cartography produced in collaboration with SITU Research. The platform is able to establish the spatial and temporal relation between otherwise separate pieces of evidence.


The Mineral Geology of Genocide


Guatemala Investigation: The Mineral Geology of Genocide (part II). Forensic Architecture and SITU Research. Realisation by Steffen Kraemer.

Animated composite mapping


The transformation of the Ixil area between 1979 and 1986. Topographic model with a projected sequence of composite maps demonstrating how deforestation, pattern of massacres, destruction of native villages, and construction of new “model villages” transformed the area between 1979 and 1986. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.
NDVI map

Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) analysis of the Ixil territory for satellite images taken in 1979 and 1986, the years that bracket the genocide. Green indicates heavy vegetation and red signifies little vegetation. Visualisation: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Map depicting the density of massacres registered by the UN-backed Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) during the thirty-six years of civil war. The zone of greatest intensity overlaps with the ancestral territory of the Ixil Maya. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Map depicting the density of massacres registered by the UN-backed Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) during the thirty-six years of civil war. The zone of greatest intensity overlaps with the ancestral territory of the Ixil Maya.
Visualisation: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Taken over by wild grass, this partially cleared plot of land was formerly occupied by a wooden house. On the left side of the image an avocado tree can be identified, a signifier of the plot’s former occupants. Village of Xolcuay, Ixil territory, 2013. Photo: Paulo Tavares.

Taken over by wild grass, this partially cleared plot of land was formerly occupied by a wooden house. On the left side of the image an avocado tree can be identified, a signifier of the plot’s former occupants.
Village of Xolcuay, Ixil territory, 2013.
Photo: Paulo Tavares.

Aerial image of the model village of Acul in which survivors of the massacres were concentrated, circa 1984. Source: Magazine of the Guatemalan army, Polos de Desarrolo y Servicios, 1984.

Aerial image of the model village of Acul in which survivors of the massacres were concentrated, circa 1984.
Source: Magazine of the Guatemalan army, Polos de Desarrolo y Servicios, 1984.

Map identifying the location of unmarked graves⎯in which victims of the civil war were buried⎯uncovered by the Fundación de Atropología Forense de Guatemala (FAFG) at a cemetery in the city of Escuintla, southern central Guatemala. Photo: Forensic Architecture.

Map identifying the location of unmarked graves⎯in which victims of the civil war were buried⎯uncovered by the Fundación de Atropología Forense de Guatemala (FAFG) at a cemetery in the city of Escuintla, southern central Guatemala. Photo: Paulo Tavares and Eyal Weizman.

Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) analysis of the Ixil territory for satellite images taken in 1979 and 1986, the years that bracket the genocide. Green indicates heavy vegetation and red signifies little vegetation. Two trends are noticeable: increased deforestation in the areas surrounding the major towns (the destruction of the forest went hand in hand with the destruction of villages); and an increase in vegetation cover in the northern areas, possibly signaling abandoned fields taken over by the wilderness. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Two trends are noticeable: increased deforestation in the areas surrounding the major towns (the destruction of the forest went hand in hand with the destruction of villages); and an increase in vegetation cover in the northern areas, possibly signalling abandoned fields taken over by the wilderness.

Housing density in the “Ixil Triangle.” Mayan villages were dispersed in the arable valleys between the mountain slopes. In this image the yellow dots mark the location of individual houses in 1964, before the campaign began. The red squares mark the location of new settlements and model villages into which all dispersed households were concentrated. This territorial reorganization employed by the Guatemalan military sought to concentrate the Ixil population into urbanized zones, radically altering their way of life. Visualization: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Housing density in the “Ixil Triangle.” Mayan villages were dispersed in the arable valleys between the mountain slopes. In this image the yellow dots mark the location of individual houses in 1964, before the campaign began. The red squares mark the location of new settlements and model villages into which all dispersed households were concentrated. This territorial reorganisation employed by the Guatemalan military sought to concentrate the Ixil population into urbanised zones, radically altering their way of life.
Visualisation: Forensic Architecture and SITU Research.

Ruins at the village of Pexla Grande, Ixil territory, 2013. Photo: Paulo Tavares.

Ruins at the village of Pexla Grande, Ixil territory, 2013.
Photo: Paulo Tavares.

The DNA identification room at Laboratorio Clyde Snow, Guatemala City, November 2011. Photo: Paulo Tavares, Eyal Weizman.

The DNA identification room at Laboratorio Clyde Snow, Guatemala City, November 2011.
Photo: Paulo Tavares, Eyal Weizman.

Excavation of clandestine graves at the cemetery in Escuintla, Guatemala. Photo: Paulo Tavares and Eyal Weizman.

Excavation of clandestine graves at the cemetery in Escuintla, Guatemala.
Photo: Paulo Tavares and Eyal Weizman.

 

Living Death Camps

LIVING DEATH CAMPS

Reconciling the dark past and living present of former concentration camps in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

Living Death Camps describes the condition of two former concentration camps located in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia: the World War II-era camp of Staro Sajmište, and the camp of Omarska, dating from the Yugoslav war. Both are presently inhabited and used for other purposes.

Living Death Camps names a collaborative project that seeks to investigate the complex material and political issues currently unfolding around these two sites, and to understand the politics of commemoration in which each of them is embroiled.

Each of these sites has a complex and singular history, which we have undertaken to expose in our research. It is by addressing the specificity of each site that we sought to understand and intervene in the respective transformation of each place into a post-conflict site of commemoration. Starting from the acknowledgment that these two former death camps are presently inhabited and used, that they are places upon which the lives of many depend, we argued that it is a necessity for each of these sites to develop a project of commemoration that would remain responsive to the demands of ongoing life.

In an attempt to engage with this need and the difficult questions surrounding it, our research turned to some of the methods of contemporary archaeology. Our forensics have surveyed and explored the multiplicity of events registered in the materiality of each site, without an a priori focus on the historical layer that the death camp has left behind. The material entanglement of historical layers in each site forms the ground upon which a call for a simultaneous attention to its present and pasts can be made.

An inverted symmetry emerges from the research we have conducted in each of the two sites. In both cases our research culminated in the assembly of a public forum, however in Staro Sajmište we opposed plans for commemoration that involved the eviction of its current residents, while in Omarska we demanded that the local community be granted the right to commemorate the tragic events that took place on the site, which is today occupied by a commercial mine in operation.

Forensic Architecture Team

  • Eyal Weizman (Principal Investigator)
  • Susan Schuppli (research and coordination, Omarska)
  • Francesco Sebregondi (research and coordination, Staro Sajmište)
  • Steffen Krämer (videography & video editing)
  • Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss (research, Staro Sajmište)

In Partnership With

  • Grupa Spomenik
  • Working Group Four Faces of Omarska
  • Caroline Sturdy Colls, Centre of Archaeology at Staffordshire University
  • ScanLAB Projects

Press

“Burden of Proof” by Tom Holert, Artforum March 2013

“A memorial in exile in London’s Olympics: orbits of responsibility,” Susan Schuppli, openDemocracy July 2012



Staro Sajmište: The Inverted Horizon

Staro Sajmište, or the Old Fairground, was built in 1938 on the outskirts of Belgrade to host international exhibitions and to present the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as a modern, industrialised, and technologically advanced nation. During World War II, following the German invasion of 1941, the fairground was transformed by the occupying Nazis into a death camp, where Jews, Roma, and political opponents were detained and killed. After the war, the remaining structures of the Sajmište complex became the residence of several generations of people—particularly those from the most vulnerable sections of society—and included artists’ studios, workshops, small industries, and homes for a Roma community. Due to the urban expansion of Belgrade over the past sixty years, Staro Sajmište is now at the centre of the city.

Recently, another transformation of the site was announced. In light of the City of Belgrade’s project to establish a Holocaust memorial in Staro Sajmište, which would necessitate the eviction of some or all the current residents (the first evictions of residents began in the summer 2013), we attempted to highlight what we saw as an unacceptable contradiction: a Holocaust memorial cannot be built on a forcefully cleared ground without immediately compromising its purpose. In order for such a claim to be articulated and heard, it needed to be made on a material basis.

Forensic archaeologist Dr. Caroline Sturdy Colls has, in recent years, developed a methodology of investigation that she refers to as “non-invasive.” This involves using a range of complementary techniques, but it largely relies upon the sensing technology of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). This device transmits radar pulses into the ground to a depth of up to fifteen meters, and detects minute differences in the densities of the subsurface by recording the reflected signal. In the fuzzy three-dimensional model of the subsoil it produces, one can identify buried objects, voids and cracks, and other disturbances in the soil structure. Sturdy Colls uses this method to map and digitally explore the subterranean strata of historic sites, in particular those shaped by a history of violence. We approached her in the spring of 2012 to work on an extensive survey of Staro Sajmište, putting her in collaboration with ScanLAB Projects, a London-based practice that specialises in large-scale 3D data capture. A singular image of the site at Staro Sajmište, above and below ground, has emerged from this collaboration.

Our survey has resulted in a report titled An Archaeological Assessment of the Area of the Former Judenlager and Anhaltlager at Staro Sajmište, Belgrade, Serbia, which analyses the different structures, additions, and alterations that have accumulated on the site’s thick ground. The report sought to unpack the history of the site as a process of ongoing transformation; it searched for historical and material continuities as well as ruptures. In this approach, all layers of the site, including and in particular those composed of its recent and present daily use, are regarded as archaeologically significant. Above all, the report demonstrates that Staro Sajmište’s multiple historical layers are inextricably entangled and mutually dependent.

On 5 October 2013, we convened a public forum inside one of Staro Sajmište’s most infamous structures—the former German pavilion, which had served as accommodation for the camp’s inmates during World War II. There we publicly presented our archaeological report, which served to provoke an open discussion about the future of the site.

The report confirms a counterintuitive fact: Staro Sajmište stands today thanks to its ongoing inhabitation, which has sustained it for the past sixty years. As Sturdy Colls put it in her presentation of the report: “The role of the people who have been living here since the war should be duly acknowledged. Because in actual fact, the people who have lived in these buildings have played a role in preserving them. Many of these buildings wouldn’t be here if people hadn’t lived in them.”

Not only did the residents of the site prevent its structures from degenerating into rubble—as happens after the long-term inoccupation of a building—but their number and distribution over the entire site has successfully hindered the realisation of several redevelopment plans during the post-World War II period—which could have meant the destruction of the historical buildings to make room for a denser or more profitable urban quarter. Based on these findings, our claim—which we publicly put forward on the occasion of the public forum—was the following: rather than evict the people living and working in Staro Sajmište, the City of Belgrade has a duty towards them and surely must include them as an active party in any future plan for commemoration.

The first transformation of Staro Sajmište from an exhibition ground into a concentration camp demonstrates a strange continuity between the two very different functions of the same compound—both made use of the same geometry of vision of pavilions around a central tower. The second transformation from a camp into a living neighbourhood illustrates a concept that philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes as “profanation”— “restoring into common use” of those things that have been excluded, separated, bounded, put out of access and touch. Today’s plans for returning the site to its original function—thereby completing a circuit that leads from a fairground through a concentration camp to a museum—would imply the re-sanctification of the site in the meaning of its exclusion from daily life. “Everything today can become a Museum,” Agamben writes, “because this term simply designates the exhibition of an impossibility of using, of dwelling, of experiencing.”

An appropriate commemorative project for Staro Sajmište would include a plan to rehabilitate its homes and modernise its collective infrastructure, in order to support its potential as a common space. The concept of a living death camp would demand that any commemoration plan should see to the improvement of the living conditions of the communities that have turned this place into a neighbourhood, and that have kept its material history alive.

Aerial image of the newly built fairground with Belgrade in the background, 1937. The panoptic structure of the camp is clearly identifiable. Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

Aerial image of the newly built fairground with Belgrade in the background, 1937. The panoptic structure of the camp is clearly identifiable.
Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

FA2 - 2-semlin 1941

Semlin camp, circa 1941. Originally constructed as ticket booths for the fairground, the buildings in the foreground later became the gatehouses of the camp, photo circa 1941. Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

German Pavilion in the fairground, 1937. Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

German Pavilion in the fairground, 1937.
Image: courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade.

Aerial photograph of the Semlin camp in 1944, showing the bomb craters of the Allied raids over Belgrade. Image: courtesy of Jovan Byford.

Aerial photograph of the Semlin camp in 1944, showing the bomb craters of the Allied raids over Belgrade.
Image: courtesy of Jovan Byford.

The Central Tower in its current state (2012). Image: Forensic Architecture.

The Central Tower in its current state (2012).
Image: Forensic Architecture.

Interior of mechanical workshop occupying the former German Pavilion, 2012. 3D-Laser Scan data. Image: ScanLAB Projects / Forensic Architecture.

Interior of mechanical workshop occupying the former German Pavilion, 2012. 3D-Laser Scan data.
Image: ScanLAB Projects / Forensic Architecture.

Plan of Staro Sajmište (the former Semlin death camp) in Belgrade. The survey combined two distinct data-capture technologies: on-site features lying above the ground were recorded via 3D laser scanning, while we searched for buried features using Ground Penetrating Radar. The rectangular surfaces that appear mainly in blue are snapshots of the underground, and the colored elements within them mark disruptions to the soil structure. Image: ScanLAB Projects/Caroline Sturdy Colls/Forensic Architecture, 2013.

Plan of Staro Sajmište (the former Semlin death camp) in Belgrade. The survey combined two distinct data-capture technologies: on-site features lying above the ground were recorded via 3D laser scanning, while we searched for buried features using Ground Penetrating Radar. The rectangular surfaces that appear mainly in blue are snapshots of the underground, and the colored elements within them mark disruptions to the soil structure.
Image: ScanLAB Projects/Caroline Sturdy Colls/Forensic Architecture, 2013.


Survey Area I, 2012. Annotated depth plots of the GPR data viewed in plan. Feature A bisects the survey area from east to west and most likely represents a pipe, probably for sewage. Feature B is a modern path. Feature C is visible from 0.10 m deep and is present as an area of medium reflection until approximately 0.72 m. Strangely, it returns as a low reflection feature at approximately 1.24 m. It seems likely that this feature represents some form of back-filled ditch, but its purpose is unclear. It might also represent a remnant of a historical settlement, predating all other features. Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Survey Area I, 2012. Annotated depth plots of the GPR data viewed in plan. Feature A bisects the survey area from east to west and most likely represents a pipe, probably for sewage. Feature B is a modern path. Feature C is visible from 0.10 m deep and is present as an area of medium reflection until approximately 0.72 m. Strangely, it returns as a low reflection feature at approximately 1.24 m. It seems likely that this feature represents some form of back-filled ditch, but its purpose is unclear. It might also represent a remnant of a historical settlement, predating all other features.
Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Survey Area I, 2012. Depth of GPR data as visualized in GSSI RADAN® software. The elliptical feature C is visible. This strange feature, defiantly located amongst all the other historical layers, complicates the history of the site. Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Survey Area I, 2012. Depth of GPR data as visualized in GSSI RADAN® software. The elliptical feature C is visible. This strange feature, defiantly located amongst all the other historical layers, complicates the history of the site.
Image: Forensic Architecture / Caroline Sturdy Colls.

Omarska: Memorial in Exile

In 2005 ArcelorMittal made a commitment to finance and build a memorial on the grounds of Omarska, the site of the most notorious concentration camp of the Bosnian war. Two decades later, no resolution as to how to commemorate the tragic events that took place on its grounds have been found.

In a chance meeting near the mine, Director of ArcelorMittal, Prijedor Mladen Jelača, proudly confirmed to us that the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the towering symbol of the London 2012 Olympics, was being fabricated with iron ore that came from the Omarska mine. This material link between London and Omarska—between a site where crimes against humanity were committed and another that celebrated that same universal humanity—formed the basis of our collective project. On 2 July 2012, shortly before the opening of the Olympics, we hosted a press conference in the immediate vicinity of the Olympic park. With the participation of survivors from the Omarska and Prijedor camps, we reclaimed the ArcelorMittal Orbit as the Omarska Memorial in exile.

Prijedor is in the region that is referred to, after the Dayton Peace Agreement, as Republika Srpska—an area whose demographics were dramatically affected by the war and where ethnic cleansing was the most intense and successful. Bosnian Muslims we spoke to, who had returned under the agreement, complained of daily harassment and continued discrimination. While ArcelorMittal claims it is fully aware of its responsibilities towards the local community and its employees, the mine’s postwar workforce is comprised almost exclusively of Bosnian Serbs.

ArcelorMittal insists on “not taking sides in this debate without engagement or prior agreement of the local communities and local/international stakeholders concerned.” Not taking sides in an area where persecution and injustice continue is not an act of neutrality but constitutes a political position by default. Not taking sides maintains the impasse of the present and forecloses the possibility of moving forward. Through the Memorial in Exile project, we aimed to raise public awareness of this material amnesia, and to put continued pressure on ArcelorMittal—demanding that it use its enormous influence to facilitate the entrance into public discourse of the history of the Omarska death camp.

Twenty years after it first emerged in the public sphere, the case of Omarska regained considerable public attention through our project. It may be that this contributed to bringing about a significant softening in ArcelorMittal’s policy regarding public access to the site. As a consequence, our team was granted access to the Omarska mine on 3 October 2012 to conduct a detailed photographic and 3D laser-scanning survey of the notorious White House. In 1992, this rather banal-looking one-story pitched-roof house functioned as a place for the torture and execution of inmates. Witnesses who testified in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) described an accumulating pile of bodies rising in a deadly mound beside it. The White House was also the site chosen by ArcelorMittal to build a memorial in a 2005 project that was later abandoned.

3D laser-scanning technology allowed us to capture a millimeter-perfect model of the interior, exterior, and immediate surroundings of the White House. The level of detail it provides allows one to identify features that are hardly visible to the naked eye, such as the footprint of a boot on an interior wall, but also remnants of improvised attempts at commemoration. The capture of this model constitutes a future-oriented archive. Considering the planned cessation of the ICTY’s activities at the end of 2016, the fate of the White House in the coming years is uncertain. Access to such a significant place of mourning for the relatives of the camp’s victims still remains highly restricted today. In the context of the ongoing negotiation of a commemorative project for Omarska, this singular three-dimensional archive has the potential to be mobilised in unexpected ways.

The Omarska mine and its surrounding landscape. According to recent geological assessments there are still some 347 metric tons of limonite and carbon-ore reserves in the river valleys of the Sana, Una, and Gomjenica, between the mountains of Kozara and Grmec. Limonite has been mined for more than two thousand years in this region of Bosnia.

The Omarska mine and its surrounding landscape. According to recent geological assessments there are still some 347 metric tons of limonite and carbon-ore reserves in the river valleys of the Sana, Una, and Gomjenica, between the mountains of Kozara and Grmec. Limonite has been mined for more than two thousand years in this region of Bosnia.

IT-99-36: Brdjanin. Picture of the Omarska Camp Model (0400-9592). Exhibit P1128.4. Date: 30 / 10 / 2002. Submitted by the Prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Image: ICTY Court Records.

IT-99-36: Brdjanin. Picture of the Omarska Camp Model (0400-9592). Exhibit P1128.4. Date: 30 / 10 / 2002. Submitted by the Prosecution at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Image: ICTY Court Records.

Twenty years after the war crimes committed there, still no space of public commemoration exists. Ground, buildings, and equipment once used for extermination now serve a commercial enterprise run by the world’s largest steel producer.

Twenty years after the war crimes committed there, still no space of public commemoration exists. Ground, buildings, and equipment once used for extermination now serve a commercial enterprise run by the world’s largest steel producer.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, London Olympic Stadium, 2012. Image: Courtesy of ArcelorMittal.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, London Olympic Stadium, 2012. Image: Courtesy of ArcelorMittal. Rising to the soaring height of 114.5 meters and outstripping even the Statue of liberty by two meters, the ArcelorMittal Orbit boasts an impressive compendium of statistics: 1,500 tons of steel, 35,000 bolts, 19,000 liters of paint, 770 visitors per hour and 5,000 per day, vistas stretching 20 miles into the distance, and a overall price tag of £22.7 million, £19.6 million of which was funded by ArcelorMittal.

The facts and figures of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the showpiece of london’s 2012 Olympics, are tragically intertwined with the history of war crimes that took place on the very grounds from which ArcelorMittal subsequently began to extract not only its soaring global profits, but the very iron ore that the director of ArcelorMittal Prijedor boasts has been used in the construction of the Orbit.

The facts and figures of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, the showpiece of London’s 2012 Olympics, are tragically intertwined with the history of war crimes that took place on the very grounds from which ArcelorMittal subsequently began to extract not only its soaring global profits, but the very iron ore that the director of ArcelorMittal Prijedor boasts has been used in the construction of the Orbit.

Aerial view of Omarska mine. From the Four Faces of Omarska Archive, source unknown.

Aerial view of Omarska mine. From the Four Faces of Omarska Archive, source unknown.

New battle breaks out over Serb death camp, The Guardian, December 2, 2004.

New battle breaks out over Serb death camp, The Guardian, 2 December 2004.

The story that links london to Omarska forcefully came to our attention when a group of us, including survivors of the conentration camp, drove around the perimeter of the Omarska mining complex in April 2012. At a certain point we pulled off to the side of the road where a white building was barely visible in the distance. Anxiety mounted as we lingered to talk and take some pictures, the survivors fearful that this unauthorized stop might make future access to the site even more difficult.

The story that links London to Omarska forcefully came to our attention when a group of us, including survivors of the concentration camp, drove around the perimeter of the Omarska mining complex in April 2012. At a certain point we pulled off to the side of the road where a white building was barely visible in the distance. Anxiety mounted as we lingered to talk and take some pictures, the survivors fearful that this unauthorised stop might make future access to the site even more difficult.

Another series of facts: 3,400 Bosniaks and Croats from Prijedor went missing or were killed during 1992, the summer of the massacre. At least 3,334 were imprisoned in the camp at Omarska, 700 to 800 were exterminated, 37 female detainees were repeatedly raped and tortured, upwards of 150 men singled out daily for execution. One thousand men, women, and children from the Prijedor region are still missing.

Another series of facts: 3,400 Bosniaks and Croats from Prijedor went missing or were killed during 1992, the summer of the massacre. At least 3,334 were imprisoned in the camp at Omarska, 700 to 800 were exterminated, 37 female detainees were repeatedly raped and tortured, upwards of 150 men singled out daily for execution. One thousand men, women, and children from the Prijedor region are still missing.

n the absence of a promised memorial, london’s Olympic landmark, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, was reclaimed as the Omarska Memorial in exile on July 2, 2012. Anirban Gupta Nigam: An act of reclaiming made possible because of the material power of steel to forge a connection between two disparate localities, events, and times. Between two geographies where corporate power, aesthetic practice, and large-scale mining are colliding in interesting and danger- ous ways: the camp in Omarska, and the Olympic Tower in london.

In the absence of a promised memorial, London’s Olympic landmark, the ArcelorMittal Orbit, was reclaimed as the Omarska Memorial in Exile on 2 July 2012. Anirban Gupta Nigam: an act of reclaiming made possible because of the material power of steel to forge a connection between two disparate localities, events, and times. Between two geographies where corporate power, aesthetic practice, and large-scale mining are colliding in interesting and dangerous ways: the camp in Omarska, and the Olympic Tower in London.


 

For a more in-depth account of this project, see the book FORENSIS: The Architecture of Public Truth.