FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE AND V&A WILL REPRESENT UK AT LONDON DESIGN BIENNALE 2018, RECONSTRUCTING ISLAMIC STATE ATROCITIES
The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London has been announced as the curator of the UK entry and at London Design Biennale 2018. It will work with the notorious and interdisciplinary UK.based agency Forensic Architecture, whose groundbreaking approach is currently also the subject of a retrospective at The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. The project for the biennale will be inspired by this year’s overall theme, “Emotional States”, and will collect, document and visualize the destruction, genocide and enslavement perpetrated by Islamic State in Iraq. As a warm up, and to illustrate the richness of the agency's work, watch the stunning video of the installation with which Foreign Architecture participated in last year's Documenta, the world's leading art show, in Kassel, Germany, meticulously reconstructing and re-opening the case of what seemed a solved Neo-Nazi murder in that very same city, and unveiling a systematic racist and fascist prejudice still inherent in German society
Launched in 2016, the Biennale takes place at London’s Somerset House.This year’s edition will see designs from over 35 countries, cities and other territories, spanning six continents. The UK is the latest country to be announced. Other countries include Argentina, Austria, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Malaysia, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK and USA. Further participants will announced in May.
Taking over the entirety of Somerset House in September, each participant will show an installation in response to the theme of 'Emotional States'. Starting from the idea that emotions are universal, with shared meanings that transcend borders, the exhibition aims to become a laboratory of ideas that 'explores the full spectrum of emotional life, from happiness to anger, sadness to disgust', and investigates 'the important relationship between design, strong emotional responses and real social needs.' says Dr Christopher Turner, Director of the Biennale.
The Latvian installation for instance, called ‘Matter to Matter’ will explore a natural phenomenon - condensation – to transform a technological glass surface into an interactive platform
calm, sensory environment that reflects on the importance of the relationship between humans, nature and technology
The interpretations of the theme will be various, to say the least. The Latvian installation for instance, called ‘Matter to Matter’ will explore a natural phenomenon - condensation – to transform a technological glass surface into an interactive platform, a calm, sensory environment that reflects on the importance of the relationship between humans, nature and technology. Visitors will be encouraged to leave a temporal message, which naturally disappears within a couple of minutes. Equally pastoral seem the intentions of the Canadian installation, which is set to reveal the complexity of the nation with a 360-degree immersive experience that takes the viewer from coast to coast, on a journey that taps into towns whose names are inspired by emotions, from Happy Adventure, Newfoundland to Hope, British Columbia.
As could be expected, Forensic Architecture's project is a whole different league. Forensic Architecture is an independent research agency based at Goldsmiths University of London. Founded in 2011 by the British-Israeli architect Eyal Weizman, its interdisciplinary team of investigators includes filmmakers, software developers, archaeologists, lawyers, journalists and yes, even some architects. Basically, its totally new approach that revolutionized as well forensics as architecture starts from the observation that in today's overmediatized society, every single physical fact or event in the traditional space and time lapse has what one might describe as its 'virtual doubles'. While this has given rise to well-founded fears of a Big Brother society, the agency has made it its mission to make this new technology benefit rather than harm human rights, exploiting the proverbial cracks in the system, by retrieving these virtual data and combining them positively in a hybrid reconstruction of physical events that seemed destroyed and forever lost.
In so doing, Forensic Architecture acts as 'an architectural detective agency', uncovering facts that most often confound the stories told and imposed -top-down- by police, military, states and corporations. Its strategy fully exploits the rise of social media and a worldwide increase in availability of digital recording equipment, satellite imaging, remote sensing technology, alongside platforms for data sharing, which also allows them to collect the metadata bottom-up. While presenting objects and buildings as privileged witnesses of the prosecuted crime, the navigable 3D models, filmic animations, or interactive cartographies that result, are built by scraping thousands of images of a bombing off social media, or by comparing several CCTV camera positions, to map the daily life of an Aleppo hospital in the seconds before it is obliterated by pro-regime forces. but also by combining ancient as well as modern methods, such as the memorizing techniques of Roman orators and Elizabethan actors, when helping ex-prisoners reconstruct the secret prison of Saydnaya in Syria.
Forensic Architecture tries to make visible those things that are kept hidden
Since its creation, the team has investigated the use of white phosphorus by the Israeli army during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and various cases of ‘targeted assassinations’ by Israeli and US drones in Gaza and Pakistan
In a world saturated by images, where seemingly almost everything seems exposed to view, Forensic Architecture tries to make visible those things that are kept hidden. While the agency prefers to describe its activity “counter-forensics”, “forensics” being “the art of the police”, the architecture it practices is extremely compelling, both in the inventiveness, precision and patience of the processes and the crystalline outcomes.
Since its creation, the team has investigated the use of white phosphorus by the Israeli army during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and various cases of ‘targeted assassinations’ by Israeli and US drones in Gaza and Pakistan, but gradually its areas of interest also expanded beyond Israel and Palestine to wherever its help might be needed but still mostly to crimes committed by sovereign states,: the disappearance of students in Iguala in Mexico, a lethal factory fire in Karachi, a detention centre in Cameroon, where torture and executions took place with the apparent connivance of US personnel based there, the maritime path of a Libyan boat of migrants drifting helplessly in the Mediterranean Sea, the destruction of Guatemalan villages in the early-1980s genocide of the Ixil Maya people, and the spatial organisation of two concentration camps in former Yugoslavia.
Positioning itself 'on the side of civil society', Forensic Architecture has been continuously working with NGOs, and human rights, social justice and environmental organisations, but won’t take commissions from government or corporations. Its investigations invariably lead to the contestation of accounts of events given by state authorities, and have more than once given rise to citizen tribunals and truth commissions, military, parliamentary and UN inquiries, affecting legal and human rights processes. It has also given them a wide range of enemies and detractors though. Forensic Architecture have been dismissed by Germany’s ruling CDU party as factually challenged artists, by Assad as Qatari stooges, by the Kremlin-backed RT TV network as supporters of Islamic State, and in Israel they get called “Pallywood”, as in Palestinian Hollywood – especially since their research in the events of Black Friday, on 1 August 2014, when 2,000 Israeli bombs, missiles and shells were dropped on the city of Rafah, in the Gaza strip, contributed to the cancellation of the Hannibal Directive, a classified policy whereby the Israeli military might kill their own soldiers if they are taken prisoner, rather than allow them to become hostages.
Forensic Architecture has already announced that its installation at the London Biennale will be based on the studio’s work in the Sinjar area of Iraq, where it is training Kurdish-speaking Yazidis to document and collect evidence of destruction, genocide and enslavement perpetrated by terrorist Daesh (Islamic State) against the Yazda. The pavilion will showcase the processes of collecting, curating and reconstructing these images, as well as the objects used during the training of the Yazidi people, such as rigs that are made from kites.plastic bottles and helium balloons. 3D models of the sites destroyed by Daesh will be constructed using aerial photography and photogrammetry (geographic measurements taken from photos).and will serve as pieces of evidence for future litigation. „The project continues V&A’s exploration on digital reconstruction and cultural heritage, and interrogates the role that digital design can have in society today.“ V&A Co-Curators Natalie Kane and Brendan Cormier explain, „ Forensic Architecture are world-leaders in this discipline. So we are thrilled to be bringing a new investigation and really look forward to our collaboration.“
Meanwhile watch 77sqm_9.26min, a detailed online report that offers a step-by-step insight into a counter-investigation into one of a series of ten National Socialist Underground (NSU) and racially-motivated murders in Germany between 2000 and 2009, the motivation for which the police persistently refused to admit . The 21-year-old Halit Yozgat was the ninth victim, a member of the Turkish-German family, shot while working at the internet café run by his family in Kassel, the very city that also houses the Documenta, where this report was shown during last year's edition.
Present in the shop at the time of the murder on April 6, 2006, was an intelligence agent for the state of Hessen, Andreas Temme, logged on to a dating website in a back room. If there’s one thing a secret agent should be able to do, you might have thought, it would be to notice a killing in the next room, but Temme claimed he did not.. At first, he did not even alert the authorities about his presence, and later during his testimony insisted to have been unaware of the murder. He took part in a police video reconstruction in which he is seen placing his payment for his internet access on the reception table, acting as if he was totally unaware of the corpse on the floor behind it. His story didn’t seem likely, but in the absence of further evidence he was taken at his word, and cleared of all suspicion.
That might have been that, were it not that in November 2016 an alliance of civil society organisations known as ‘Unraveling the NSU Complex’ commissioned Forensic Architecture to investigate Temme’s testimony and determine whether it could be truthful. Forensic Architecture exhibited its findings at the 2017 edition of Kassel’s five-yearly art event. Using police investigation files that were leaked in 2015, it digitally modelled the café in terms of size, layout and material composition. Through creating a full-scale mock-up of the cafe interior based on this model, with materials that had the same acoustic qualities as the original, and analyzing the sound of the two shots (loud enough, even with a silencer), the dispersal of their smoke and the sightlines of the agent as he put money on the table behind which the young victim was sprawled, and using the timecode of logins into computers at the internet café, a sequence of events and witness testimonies was drawn up which clearly demonstrated that Temme could not possibly have failed to hear, smell and see the crime, Within the 77 square meters of the Internet café and the 9:26 minutes of the incident. The investigation was presented to the state parliamentary inquiry into the NSU in Hessen on 25 August 2017, but apart from the fact that the ruling Christian Democrat party (CDU), which was also in charge of the security services at the time of the murder. produced a substantial critique of the investigation, little seems to have happened.
Watch the video of the report, which is currently also on show at Counter Investigations a survey exhibition of the work of Forensic Architecture at the ICA, London, present a selection of recent and new projects. by Forensic Architecture. Counter Investigations: Forensic Architecture, runs until 13 May. London Design Biennale takes place from 4-23 September 2018 at Somerset House, Strand, London. (mb)
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