Art and cutting-end technology as means to evidence injustice

How to use art and new-media as a mean to collect and articulate the evidence of social or ecological injustice? New technologies such as 3d modelling and advanced sound techniques make it possible to monitor and trace activities in a way that was never possible before. ‘Forensic Justice,’ an exhibition and a series of public programs with Forensic Architecture, sets an example and shows how the use of art and new-media breaks the boundaries
of the field and becomes a way to mobilise change.

Working cross-sector is in the heart of design research practices, that is a characteristic of our work we almost take for granted. It is exciting to see where these cross-sector collaborations can become bolder. Further than that, what I find inspiring in the work of Forensic Architecture is the use of cutting egde technologies to advance social justice. ‘Forensic Justice’ was presented at BAK, Basis voor Actuele Kunst in Utrecht from October 18, 2018 till January 27, 2019.

Articulating the relation between aesthetics and politics

Forensic Architecture, a London-based independent and interdisciplinary research agency composed of among others, artists, scientists, lawyers, filmmakers, and architects uses innovative research to investigate abuses of human rights and, more broadly, the rights of nature. Their work can be considered as an aesthetico-political practice, as they articulate the relations between aesthetics and politics. This means that providing forensic evidence is not only about the data itself but also its aesthetic.

The aesthetic dimension of forensics includes its means of presentation, the theatrics of its delivery, the forms of image and gesture. The forensic aesthetics carries with it political and ethical implications, spreading its impact across socioeconomic, environmental and cultural domains. For example, when reconstructing the scene of a shooting of a young muslim man in Germany, to prove the innocence of the accused shooter, the agency used film making, model making and sound design to generate and present their evidences. This project was presented in a large art fair in Germany, attracting a lot of attention to it which created public pressure that brought the case back to court.

Claiming to tell the truth is almost impossible and nearly absurd

The work of Forensic Architecture provides critical evidence for international courts. They work with a wide range of citizen-led activist groups, NGOs, the United Nations, as well as with art institutions for distributing the investigations. The advanced methods they work with allow them to collect evidences of events that were often kept in the darkness. Besides, in an era where we talk about post-truth, fake news and alternative facts claiming to tell the truth is almost impossible and nearly absurd. Therefor, the agency Forensic Architecture does not aim to provide the truth, but “public truth”. The counter-narratives to the dominant interpretations offered powerful people, cooperates or governments, defending the public in the vulnerable position.

It makes me think what we as design researchers can learn from this, how can we incorporate more of these new technologies in our design research work. Perhaps the challenge for us in conducting qualitative research, is to find how we can further pioneer the field of evidencing where numbers, sizes, distances are replaced with emotions, thoughts and desires.   

Photos by Forensic Architecture