MA Brief – 2010/2011

Objects are hieroglyphs in whose dark prism social relations lay congealed and in fragments. They are understood as nodes, in which the tensions of a historical moment materialize in a flash of awareness or twist grotesquely into the commodity fetish. In this perspective, a thing is never just an object, but a fossil in which a constellation of forces are petrified. Things are never just inert objects, passive items, or lifeless shucks, but consist of tensions, forces, hidden powers, all being constantly exchanged.

Hito Steyerl

The word forensics derives from the Latin forensis, which means “forum” and refers to the practice of making an argument by using objects before a gathering such as a professional, political, or legal forum. Forensics was part of rhetoric. Rhetoric is of course about speech, but forensics does not refer to the speech of humans but to that of objects or things. In forensics objects address the forum. Things need, however their “translators” to interpret and mediate their speech. Because the thing speaks through — or is “ventriloquized” by — its translator – the object and its translator make a necessary and interdependent duo. To refute a legal/rhetorical statement, it is enough to refute one of the two: to either show that the object is inauthentic or that its interpreter is biased. When evidence is given the capacity to speak, and objects are treated as “witnesses”, they also possess the capacity to lie.

This year the Centre for Research Architecture will continue in its investigation of forensics, as an analytic mode of probing architectural, urban and geopolitical conditions. Two intertwined and entangled seminars – a lecture seminar – titled Conflicts and Negotiations as Spatial Practice – (taught by Eyal Weizman, Andy Lowe, and Paulo Tavares) will develop the analytical and theoretical terms of this investigation and construct a lexicon of terms and concepts; and a studio seminar (taught by John Palmesino, with participation of the above tutors) will allow students to develop techniques of investigation and representations and open a forum in which students will experience and experiment with a series of methods of work, and discuss their projects.


The principle of forensics assumes that events, as complex and multivalented as they might be, are registered within the material properties of objects/bodies/spaces  – relational objects that we will refer to (after Heidegger and following Latour) “things”.

This material approach is pronounced simultaneously in a number of areas and disciplines. Today’s legal and political decisions are based upon the capacity to read and present DNA samples, 3D scans, nano-technology, the “enhanced vision” of electro-magnetic microscopes and satellite surveillance, and extend from the topography of the sea bed to the remnants of destroyed or bombed out buildings. Architecture and its representations – either as remote sensing models, satellite imagery, 3d animations and physical models – also enter ever more frequently into courts and political forums. But rather than presenting a conclusive, objective “vehicles of truth claims” spatial forensics is also inclined towards complex, sometimes unstable, and often contradictory accounts – a fuzzy forensics of statistics and probabilities.

We can argue that forensic architecture aspire to transform the built environment from an illustration of political relation to a source of knowledge about them. To read from the form and disposition of structures something of the events that lead to their construction and the power relations that have fossilized into form.

When dealing with forensic investigations it is crucial to note that the principle of forensics assumes two interrelated sets of spatial relations and that they are both relations between people and things. The first is a relation between an event and the objects in which it is registered, and the second is a relation between the object and the forum that is called about by its presence and that is constructed around it.  Forensics is thus both the investigation of objects and the creation of forums. The forums to which contemporary forensics are addressed are not only the actual spaces of the court; they are often contingent, diffused and networked, created through and by the media, assembled around forensic evidence, and operate across a multiplicity of international institutions. Forensics is thus both an analytical form of history writing and a projective practice of forum building. In the latter lies forensics’ propositionary potential.

Through forensics the evidence [mostly material] and the forum [mostly social] are combined into a political hybrid.

If, as Oscar Wilde once said, “the true mystery of the world is in the visible, not the invisible”, than we might indulge in diving into the logic of objects and structures, engage in a new form of “objectity” — a critical biography of structures and objects.

This entry was posted on Sunday, September 26th, 2010 at 12:13 pm
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