47

– Spring/Summer 2019

Exhibit A: Notes on a Forensic Turn in Contemporary Art

Charles Stankievech

William James Herschel, Konai’s Hand, Bengal 1858 fromThe Origin of Finger Printing, 1916.

Packaging vs. Aesthetics

As part of the ‘FORENSIS’ exhibition at the arts centre Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin in March of 2014, curators Eyal Weizman and Anselm Franke organised a conference mainly composed not of voices from the art world but of lawyers, activists and forensic specialists. In the opening keynote with legal scholar Brenna Bhandar, first chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court Luis Moreno Ocampo endorsed the work in ‘FORENSIS’ as necessary means to present evidence in the controversial court proceedings in which he participated. But in endorsing the work he also called it ‘packaging’ – a term Thomas Keenan, the moderator of the talk and author of Forensic Aesthetics, took issue with, instead suggesting he might have meant ‘aesthetics’.1 Disagreement over such terms acutely articulates a perennial debate about art. To crudely state the extreme positions: has art become flattened and instrumentalised in the political arena or does it resonate as an ambiguous aesthetic object in the art world? Such debates often occur in longstanding discussions around art’s relation to activism and propaganda, but the current practice of art using forensic processes or inversely the aesthetic processing of evidence provides a contemporary case study with a long and complicated history connected to rhetoric. Throughout history Aristotelean scholarship

Footnotes
  1. Keenan co-authored with Weizman the short manuscript Mengele’s Skull: The Advent of Forensic Aesthetics, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012. The first part of the conversation following the keynote between Bhandar and Ocampo and moderated by Keenan – before the controversial question and answer period with the audience and the above-mentioned discussion with Keenan – is on the HKW website available at https://www.hkw.de/en/app/mediathek/video/26379 (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  2. Aristotle and George A. Kennedy, On Rhetoric: a Theory of Civic Discourse, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007, p.16.

  3. Ibid., p.47.

  4. It would be too convenient if deliberative, epideictic, juridical mapped easily onto the more modern public assembly, the gallery or the court room, but the divisions are a useful place to start and for understanding that these forums are different ecologies.

  5. One could also compare the history of the recently prolific use of the word ‘curate’ – a relatively new term applied to art with a longer history of curing souls and caring for artefacts before being applied to the ghosts of ikonlogia (Aby Warburg).

  6. Not limited to fictional drama – though no less spectacle – the high-profile, televised court proceedings of O.J. Simpson’s murder trial in 1995 theatrically culminated with the exhibit of a glove as evidence with the scripted line: ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!’ Of course, the 1961 trail of Nazi Adolf Eichmann is considered the first televised proceedings. Hannah Arendt described a scene that ‘obviously had a theatre in mind, complete with orchestra and balcony, with proscenium and stage, and with side doors for the actors’ entrances'. H. Arendt, ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’, The New Yorker, 16 February 1963, available at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1963/02/16/ eichmann-in-jerusalem-i (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  7. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ran for fifteen seasons on CBS from 6 October 2000 to 27 September 2015 and resulted in three spin-off TV series. In 2014, CSI episode ‘Kitty’ debuted the franchise’s ‘cybercrime forensic’ focus and broke records for its simultaneous broadcast in 171 countries. See https://www.cbsnews.com/news/csi-breaks-guinness-world-record/ (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  8. Due to their historic nature, both of these exhibitions focused on evidence post-trial, but the Wellcome exhibition’s inclusion of artworks complicated the artefacts, introducing ‘juridical failure’ with the works by Teresa Margolles, Taryn Simon, Angela Strassheim, Sally Man and Jenny Holzer.

  9. For the best history of these works see architectural historian and curator Laura J. Miller’s ‘Denatured Domesticity: An Account of Femininity and Physiognomy in the Interiors of Frances Glessner Lee’, in H. Heynen and G. Baydar (ed.) Negotiating Domesticity: Spatial Productions of Gender in Modern Architecture, London: Routledge, 2005, pp.196–214.

  10. See Katherine Biber, In Crime’s Archive: The Cultural Afterlife of Evidence, London: Taylor & Francis, 2018. For another text asking questions about the relation between forensics and the curatorial, see the interview between contemporary art curators Beatrice von Bismark, Jörn Schafaff and Eyal Weizman (ed.), ‘Exhibition, Forensics, and the Agency of Objects’, Cultures of the Curatorial, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012, pp.84–95. However, this latter article is less about evidential objects and more about designed objects as loci of rhetoric. Also Laura J. Miller is a professor and curator at Architecture & Design Gallery at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto, where she also teaches a graduate course on the ‘artefact’.

  11. Adam Szymczyk quoted in ‘The Indelible Presence of the Gurlitt Estate: Adam Szymczyk in conversation with Alexander Alberro, Maria Eichhorn, and Hans Haacke’, in South as a State of Mind: documenta 14 #1, no.6, Fall/Winter 2015, available at https://www.documenta14.de/en/south/59_the_indelible_presence_of_the_gurlitt_estate_adam_szymczyk_in_conversation_with_ alexander_alberro_maria_eichhorn_and_hans_haacke (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  12. See Bruno Latour on the primacy of the published paper with its text and inscriptions as engine for development: B. Latour, ‘Visualization and Cognition: Thinking with Eyes and Hands’, in Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar (ed.), Representation in Scientific Practice, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990, pp.19–68.

  13. Edward R. Tufte, Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, Cheshire, CT: Graphic Press, 1997, p.29. Emphasis mine.

  14. Ibid., p.28.

  15. Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form, New York: Zone Books, 1991, p.66.

  16. See Anne Friedberg’s historical contextualisation of the concept of ‘virtual’, particularly in early theories of vision where Galileo, Kepler, Descartes et al. try to connect retinal images with paintings as material pictura and virtual mental images with projected virtual objects in the illusionary depth of the painting as imago. A. Friedberg, The Virtual Window: From Alberti to Microsoft, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006, pp.8–9.

  17. Note a history of virtually controlled spaces correlates to war games as various models mapping the history of empires: first, oblique orthogonal perspective and the game go in China (control of territory), then linear perspective and the game chess in Europe (control of hierarchy) and now virtual reality and videogames in North America (control of network).

  18. ‘“Assembly drawing” is how engineers call the invention of the blueprint.’ B. Latour, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik: or How to Make Things’, in B. Latour and Peter Weibel, Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005, p.24. Latour’s quote references Wolfang Lefèvre’s book Picturing Machines 1400–1700, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

  19. As a good starting point, see Peter Eisenman and Silvia Kolbowski, Idea as model, New York: Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, 1981.The book includes work by Eisenman from the 1976 exhibition that uses the ‘diagrammatic’ as the conceptual framework for his decomposition/ deconstruction.

  20. While the term ‘diagram’ is nebulous in both Foucault's and Deleuze’s writing due to the lack of a direct meditation and rather a sporadic use of the term over several texts, I am primarily working from Deleuze’s first review of Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment from 1977 and reworked in his book Foucault from 1983. This is not to negate his later reworking of the concept in his discussion of Francis Bacon’s paintings: ‘Bacon: “Very often the involuntary marks are much more deeply suggestive than others, and those are the moments when you feel that anything can happen.”’ The inscription and the scrape are both paths. G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, London: Continuum, 2003, p.184.

  21. G. Deleuze, Foucault (trans. Sean Hand), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, p.36.

  22. Forensics have been related to archaeology as a methodology. See Eyal Weizman, ‘Forensic Architecture is an Archeology of the Very Recent Past’, Forensic Architecture, Kassel: Documenta, 2012, p.10; and my own ‘forensic analysis – as accelerated archaeology’, in ‘Piercing the Screen of the Vegetable Kingdom: Remarks on Infrared’, Richard Mosse: Supplement to the Enclave, Berlin: Broken Dimanche Press, 2014, p.17.

  23. I have written elsewhere that while ‘systems of light’ are key to Bentham’s concept and receive almost exclusively the attention of writers and artists (the prison is called panopticon after all), the panopticon also had a sonic system to both eavesdrop and project disembodied commands. See my The Centre Cannot Hold, Kingston: Queen’s University and Berlin: K.Verlag, 2015.

  24. G. Deleuze, Foucault, op.cit., p.36.

  25. This is far from an exhaustive list and only a sample of practices established in the twentieth century – some evolving into a more direct forensic practice in the twenty-first century.

  26. For a brief history of the documentary aesthetic see Olivier Lugon, ‘Documentary: Authority and Ambiguities’, in Maria Lind and Hito Steyerl (ed.), The Green Room: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art #1, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2008, pp.28–38.

  27. Cheryl Simon, ‘Introduction: Following the Archival Turn', Visual Resources, vol.18, no.2, January 2002, pp.101–02. Hal Foster’s essay ‘The Archive Without Museums’ provides key articulation to the end of the century’s zeitgeist, October, vol.77, 1996, pp.97–119. Ariella Azoulay later writes about the archival image: ‘What the photograph shows exceeds that which the participants in the event of photography attempted to inscribe in it. Moreover, their attempt to determine and shape what will be seen in the frame and the power relations between those participants within it leaves traces that enable one to reconstruct the complexity of the event of photography.’ A. Azoulay, ‘Potential History: Thinking through Violence’, Critical Inquiry, vol.39, no.3, Spring 2013, p.556, emphasis mine.

  28. Ralph Rugoff, Anthony Vidler and Peter Wollen, Scene of the Crime, Cambridge, MA: UCLA/Armand Hammer Museum of Art, 1997.

  29. Description from the ZKM website, available at https://zkm.de/en/event/2001/10/ctrl-space-rhetorics- of-surveillance (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  30. B. Latour, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik: or How to Make Things’, op.cit., p.21.

  31. Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes: Clues and Scientific Method’, History Workshop, no.9, Spring 1980, p.8.

  32. See Neil Hirschfeld, ‘Teaching Cops to See’, Smithsonian Magazine [online journal], October 2009, available at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/teaching-cops-to-see-138500635/ (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  33. See Gombrich for the source of most citations with a nod to Gustav Flaubert, see William S. Heckscher for a meditation on the importance of the phrase in Warburg, and see Wuttke for the most compre- hensive etymology of the phrase. E. H. Gombrich and Fritz Saxl, Aby Warburg: an Intellectual Biography, London: The Warburg Institute,1970, p.13; W. S. Heckscher, ‘Petites Perceptions: An Account of Sortes Warburgianae’, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, vol.4, 1974, pp.101–34; D. Wuttke, ‘Aby warburg und seine bibliothek – zum gedenken anlässlich warburgs 100. geburtstag am 13. juni 1966’ Arcadia, vol.1, no.3, 1966, p.326.

  34. Aby Warburg, The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity: Contributions to the Cultural History of the European Renaissance (trans. David Britt), Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 1999, p.585.

  35. A quote by the English editor of Warburg’s work, Kurt Forster in Benjamin H.D. Buchloh’s ‘Gerhard Richter’s “Atlas”: The Anomic Archive.’, October, vol.88, 1999, p.127. Buchloh’s essay attempts to contextualise Warburg’s method within a poetics of avant-garde Russian and German collage: from Schwitters, Lissitzky, and Malevich to Gerhard Richter.

  36. F. Saxl, ‘The History of Warburg’s Library (1886–1944)’, in E.H. Gombrich and Fritz Saxl (ed.), Aby Warburg, op. cit., p.328.

  37. See Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002, p.885.

  38. For a history of Warburg’s influence on the discipline of art history see Georges Didi-Huberman’s foreword to Philippe-Alain Michaud’s Aby Warburg: The Image in Motion, New York: Zone Books, 2004.

  39. E.H. Gombrich, ‘Aby Warburg: His Aims and Methods: An Anniversary Lecture’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol.62, 1999, p.280.

  40. André Malraux, Le musée imaginaire de la sculpture mondiale, Paris: Gallimard, 1952.

  41. Patron of Walter Benjamin, Theodor W. Adorno’s 1966 book Negative Dialects provides the most recent justification of the concept seen in a curator’s PowerPoint: ‘As a constellation, theoretical thought circles the concept it would like to unseal, hoping that it may fly open like the lock of a well-guarded safe-deposit box: in response, not to a single key or a single number, but to a combination of numbers.’ Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p.163.

  42. E. H. Gombrich and F. Saxl. Aby Warburg, op.cit., p.261.

  43. C. Ginzburg, ‘Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes’, op.cit., p.24.

  44. Ibid., p.23.

  45. Including William Herschel, Alphonso Bertillon and Francis Galton, respectively, the figures known for developing fingerprinting / mugshot / facial composite.

  46. Each new technological shift goes through the same ideological issues. Racist theories of the criminal at the previous turn of the century based on photography resurfaced with introduction of artificial intelligence and facial recognition analysis to supposedly identify sexual orientation. See, for example, The Economist’s publication of such research ‘Keeping a Straight Face’, 9 September 2017, available at https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2017/09/09/advances-in-ai-are-used-to-spot-signs-of-sexuality and the subsequent rebuttal by GLAAD’s chief digital officer Jim Halloran ‘Letters to the Editor’, 14 September 2017, available at https://www.economist.com/ letters/2017/09/14/letters-to-the-editor (both last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  47. Edmond Locard, who started the first criminal laboratory in Lyon, was Alphonso Bertillion’s student. See Jerry W. Chisum and Brent E. Turvey, ‘Evidence Dynamics: Locard’s Exchange Principle & Crime Reconstruction’, Journal of Behavioral Profiling, vol.1, no.1, 2000, available at http://www. profiling.org/journal/vol1_no1/jbp_ed_january2000_1-1.html (last accessed on 22 January 2019). It might at first appear odd that nineteenth-century criminologist Cesare Lombroso was a staunch proponent of Victorian spirit photography, but with a blind obsession he follows Locard’s principle beyond its limit by recording traces that crossed the divide between the spiritial and material dimensions.

  48. B. Latour, ‘Visualization and Cognition’, op.cit., p.20. Latour’s analysis of the semiotic turn in science folds neatly with Ginzburg’s account of Galileo reading the book of nature. See also Harun Farocki’s intertwined history of photography and measurement as starting with Albrecht Meydenbauer in 1858. H. Farocki, ‘Reality Would Have to Begin’ (trans. Marek Wieczorek, Tom Keenan, Thomas Y. Levin), in Thomas Elsaesser (ed.), Working on the Sight-Lines, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004, pp.193–202.

  49. DNA phenotyping for forensics includes taking a DNA sample to predictively construct a facial portrait. While the practice is nascent, it is already used in criminal investigations. Despite the lack of an artist’s gesture in the facial reconstruction, bias is still not excised but rather shifted to other gaps such as the lack of racial diversity in genetic archives limiting accuracy in reconstruction.

  50. Pierre Bourdieu’s first defining of habitus emerges in the postface to Erwin Panosfky’s book Gothic Architecture. Aside from tracing a lineage from Warburg to Panofsky to Bourdieu, my use of habitus highlights not only the function of a cultural object within a specific social sphere but also invokes the inherent issue of causality. Quote from Pierre Bourdieu, Postface à Architecture gothique et pensée scolastique de E. Panofsky, Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1967, p.157, translation mine.

  51. Bourdieu himself borrowed heavily from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory of ‘language games’: ‘Wittgenstein is probably the philosopher who has helped me most at moments of difficulty. He’s a kind of saviour for times of great intellectual distress – as when you have to question such evident things as “obeying a rule.”’ P. Bourdieu, ‘Fieldwork in Philosophy’ (1985), in P. Bourdieu, In Other Words: Essays towards a Reflexive Sociology, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, p.9.

  52. I am playing with the double meaning of gallery: typically, on the one hand, the gallery in the courtroom hosts people, and on the other hand, an art gallery hosts objects. This shift from people to objects is worth noting. Half a step ahead of the forensic turn in art, Object Orientated Ontology (OOO) provided artists with a philosophy that challenged classical theories of causation. For a key early crossover between OOO and the art world see Graham Harman, ‘Heidegger on Objects and Things’, in B. Latour and P. Weibel (ed.), Making Things Public, op.cit., pp.268–71.

  53. In this film, Morris’s own meta-forensics follows a military forensic investigator. W.J.T. Mitchell, Image Science: Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, p.66.

  54. Disclosure: the author’s own projects CounterIntelligence at the University of Toronto (2014) and No6092 at the National Gallery of Canada (2016) investigated the overlap of forensics and art and would be subject to the same inquiry laid out in the current polemic.

  55. See the Forensic Architecture website, available at https://www.forensic-architecture.org/ (last accessed on 9 March 2019).

  56. Taryn Simon, The Innocents (2002), available at http://tarynsimon.com/works/innocents/#1 (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  57. Quote from 16 March 2018 on the European Research Council website (alongside the mention of 2 million euros of funding allocated for Forensic Architecture), available at https://erc.europa. eu/projects-figures/stories/architects-crime-scene (last accessed 22 January 2019). This is a different focus of intention compared to Weizman’s early agenda for evidence to build forums rather than evidence to enter pre-existing forums – like a courtroom. See E. Weizman, Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth, Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014, p.20. Building new forums through exhibition making recalls Latour and Weibel’s ‘Making Things Public’, see fn.30 in this essay. Weizman has actually expressed the negative optics of Forensic Architecture being considered a group of artists; see Phineas Harper, ‘Forensic Architecture Winning the Turner Prize Would Risk Turning Sensitive Investigative Work Into Insensitive Entertainment’, Dezeen [blog], available at https:// www.dezeen.com/2018/05/04/forensic-architecture-turner-prize-warning-phineas-harper/ (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  58. It is worth emphasising that Forensic Architecture does not prosecute cases themselves but produces reports and demonstrations to be used in legal cases. At the time of writing this article, no court cases have come to light where Forensic Architecture’s contributions were utilised in a successful verdict. However, the failure in securing legal success can be an important demonstration in determining the pervasiveness of systemic violence: violence in the field echoed by violence in the legal system. In context, visual evidence that seems irrefutable to the public has a regular history of failing to secure convictions demonstrating the extreme difference between judgment by public opinion as found in art and media versus judgment in a legal system. Consider the classic case of the Rodney King beating that sparked the Los Angeles riots in 1992 or David Joselit’s essay about Eric Garner’s documented asphyxiation by a police officer and the visual evidence’s failure to convict, D. Joselit, ‘Material Witness: Visual Evidence and the Case of Eric Garner’, Artforum, vol.53, no.6, February 2015, available at https://www.artforum.com/print/201502/material-witness-visual- evidence-and-the-case-of-eric-garner-49798 (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  59. Robert Jan van Pelt, The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence From the Irving Trial, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002 and Pelt, R. J. van, Anne Bordeleau, Sascha Hastings and Donald McKay, The Evidence Room, Toronto: New Jewish Press, Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies, University of Toronto, 2016.

  60. Ned Beauman, ‘How to Conduct an Open-Source Investigation, According to the Founder of Bellingcat’, The New Yorker, 30 August 2018, available at https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/how- to-conduct-an-open-source-investigation-according-to-the-founder-of-bellingcat (last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  61. ‘The Hills of Raqqa – Geolocating the James Foley Video’, available at https://www.bellingcat.com/ resources/case studies/2014/08/23/the-hills-of-raqqa-geolocating-the-james-foley-video/ and ‘Second Skripal Poisoning Suspect Identified as Dr. Alexander Mishkin’ available at https://www.bellingcat. com/news/uk-and-europe/2018/10/09/full-report-skripal-poisoning-suspect-dr-alexander-mishkin- hero-russia/ (both last accessed on 22 January 2019).

  62. B. Latour, ‘From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik: or How to Make Things Public’, in B. Latour and P. Weibel (ed.), Making Things Public, op.cit., p.31.

  63. David Joselit has tried to position a schism between Latour and forensic processes. See D. Joselit, ‘Material Witness: Visual Evidence and the Case of Eric Garner’, op.cit.; ‘Parliament of Things’ is the last section of B. Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (trans. Catherine Porter), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

  64. Substitute here for forensic art, forensic aesthetics, forensic architecture and other permutations.

  65. Emmanuel Levinas, ‘Is Ontology Fundamental?’ (1951), Entre-Nous: Thiking-of-the-other (trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav), London: Continuum, 2006, p.3.