What if the object is not a “witness” but an entity constructed for the express purpose of creating, or activating, the forum? Such an object might map the diffused networks of informal or illegal labor, or be called upon to narrate historical events in the absence of evidentiary materials. In fact, the object may be the very thing that produces a forum where none previously existed. An artwork likewise produces its constituency; it gathers, rather than simply assumes an already extant audience. If the object, conceptualized as such, is not that which registers the events that came before it in the manner of the classical witness, then it might be said the object itself becomes the event to which the forum as witness will address itself.
Susan Schuppli, Goldsmiths, University of London, moderator
Amber Horning, John Jay College, New York
Sara Jordeno, artist, New York
Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, School of Constructed Environments, Parsons The New School for Design
Arne Svenson, artist, New York
While legal and cultural scholars have labeled the third part of the 20th century – with its particular attention to testimony – as the “era of the witness,” the emergence of forensics in legal forums and popular entertainment signifies a new attention to the communicative capacity, agency, and power of things. This material approach is evident in the ubiquitous role that science and technologies now play in shaping contemporary ways of seeing, knowing, and communicating. Today’s legal and political decisions are often based upon the capacity to display and read DNA samples, 3D laser scans, nanotechnology, and the enhanced vision of electromagnetic microscopes and satellite surveillance. From mass graves to retinal scans, the topography of the seabed to the remnants of destroyed buildings, forensics is not only about the diagnostics, but also about the rhetoric of persuasion. The aesthetic dimension of forensics includes its means of presentation, the theatrics of its delivery, the forms of image and gesture. The forensic aesthetics of the present carries with it grave political and ethical implications, spreading its impact across socioeconomic, environmental, scientific, and cultural domains.
Etymologically, forensics refers to the “forum,” and to the practice and skill of making an argument before a professional, political, or legal gathering. Forensics has always been part of rhetoric, but its domain includes not only human speech but also that of objects. In forensic rhetoric, objects can address the forum. Because objects do not speak for themselves, there is a need for “translation” or “interpretation” – forensic rhetoric requires a person or a set of technologies to mediate between the object and the forum, to present the object, interpret it and place it within a larger net of relations.
The lectures and roundtable discussions by the participating artists, scholars and curators investigate these issues in a series of “forums” organized around a number of disputed objects.
Presented by the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at The New School and co-sponsored and co-organized with Cabinet Magazine, The Forensic Architecture ERC Project at The Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London, and The Human Rights Project at Bard College, on occasion of the Vera List Center’s 2011-2013 focus theme “Thingness.”