Following recent discussions on arts, politics and violence, I wanted to share my notes on yesterday’s lecture given by Eyal Weizman at Princeton, to hopefully continue this productive exchanges.
EYAL WEIZMAN – FORENSIS
Eyal Weizman presented his “Forensic Architecture Project” yesterday at Princeton. This is a major endeavor involving architects, artists, filmmakers, theorists and activists collaborating in transforming spatial analysis into potential evidence for prosecuting human rights crimes, and providing research on the exact way drones, bombings and invasions operate today. This project collaborates with many organizations around the world. His talk today explored the concept of “Threshold of detectability”: He mentioned how today’s missiles being used in conflicts such as Gaza leave a hole in the walls and ceilings of the buildings attacked of about 30 cm in diameter, just a little smaller than what satellite images can capture (because satellite images are limited to a pixel size of 50 cm square, so that when you zoom into the image of a damaged building you cannot see these holes, blurred in the monochromatic color of the pixel). Weapons today operate below this threshold of detectability and thus their devastation does not leave traces or records that can be used in prosecution. This is made on purpose, taking advantage of satellite regulations. Such practices around the “threshold of detectability” are adopted by modern warfare, but can also be re-appropriated by militant practices (or militant investigation as Colectivo Situaciones has suggested for other contexts).
Forensic Architecture is used to reconstruct the exact way missiles impact these buildings and the kind of devastation and killing they do. It is also used to help victims remember violent events that are erased and repressed by trauma, by rendering 3D models of places and objects where the traumatic event ocurred with the input of the victim, who then start filling her own gaps. Bio-architecture approaches can also help locate villages and communities that were massacred and destroyed and are now effaced because of forest or jungle growth, or can trace the path taken by tanks invading Gaza (by locating stomped grass and trees in that same path), and how far into the territory they went. It can also detect clandestine mass grave by studying densities and disturbances in the soil (something they have used for Guatemala to locate mass graves from the 80’s).
Eyal Weizman views architecture as a forensic sensorium, a media that bears the traces of crimes and destruction. This devastation and these events taken place in space can be disclose and made visible with the right approach and procedure. Aesthetics is a key feature in all this enterprise. It is because of the aesthetic approach that this kind of analysis can be made, and this kind of evidence be produced (although by the same token the evidence produced this way is sometimes dismissed in trials for not being sufficiently scientific).
The late Harum Farocki came to Princeton in June and presented a documentary on a virtual reality setting that was being used in the military to recreate traumatic experiences of soldiers that could not remember what happened exactly in a certain mission that went wrong. This reconstructions involved placing the soldier in a virtual environment resembling the traumatic scene, and following his steps in the event by questioning him and possibly incriminating him at the end. The reconstructions made by the Forensic Architecture Project are exactly the opposite, they deal with the memory of the civilians and victims, a memory that emerges both from the subject excavating the unconscious, and the 3D model re-creating the scene, based on material facts as well as imagination and memory.
Eyal Weizman made explicit that for him, for truth to be produced and for truth to produce any effects, one has to lie, to invent, to imagine, to take a position (there is no objective truth when following this practice) and to do a theatrical display involving technology and all other kinds of resources. Producing truth is very costly, it is a major production.
In the picture below we can see both the satellite image pixelated in max zoom (left), and the reconstructed image of the hole left by the missile impact (right), which is non-detectable by satellites as it is below the “threshold of detectability” (the pixel has not enough resolution to show the hole). The image on the left is reconstructed through cell phone footage and other resources to render it as evidence through forensic architecture.
Recently there was a discussion in CyT and in our blog involving politics and culture. I thought this project speaks a lot of what constitutes today the stakes for a “political use of aesthetic procedures”, and of the ways these procedures are being repurposed to respond to global crisis and the the securitization and global war paradigms. Can this project be considered something else than just a theatrical display of activism? Can we consider such projects as pushing things beyond the confined space of culture and the de-politized aesthetics of today? ¿Is there an infra politics involved in establishing the conditions of invisibility and impunity of the politics of war, and in mobilizing militant investigation to disclose the logic of it? Alberto just mentioned Jean Franco’s Cruel Modernity as an example of infra politics (an excess of violence that mocks politics). Eyal Weizman has a completely different approach, but I thought this example could be a counter-point to recent discussions here. The “destruction of the human” deserves a new approach towards Forensis – a practice that can disclose infra political violence by conceptualizing problems involving the threshold of vision and law, detecting the political force-fields and responding to them.