Architecture and it’s Past – Part 5 – Eyal Weizman – ‘Forensic Architecture’

Lecture date: 2010-05-21

Mark Cousins introduces the speaker, Eyal Weizman, praising his program at Goldsmiths, which has fostered in London, and in Britain in general, a much more systematic questioning in the realms of politics, human rights and territoires.

Eyal aims to establish a relation of architecture and history through the term ‘forensics’. In that field, there is a certain history that is written by scientists. He introduces the term political plastic: space is a political plastic inasmuch as built forms and landscapes are continuously shaped and reshaped by political forces: translating those transformations into physical forms. The question then is whether it is possible to read backwards form into politics and into history. Also, if there is some sort of immediate transparency in it or, in the contrary, are we entering a field which is a little bit more complicated than that. Forensic architecture might be the frame in which we can question that relation between an analysis of form and an event. The question is how to unlock complex historical events from structures or from their remanences, a process that is not mediated by architecture history at all. He shows a mosque in Kosovo catalogued into its elements, that aroused a historical debate. There was a broadcasted meeting between the architectural historian, Andras Riedlmayer -world known expert in ottoman architecture- and Slobodan Milosevic. They discuss the destruction of the Hadum mosque; Milosevic suggests that the mosque had been destroyed by a bomb and the historian argues that the minarette was decapitated by a small caliber artillery, and it then fell into the building causing a series of other collapses. Both are reading different histories in the rubble, they take the ruin in their own terms. Milosevic continuously questions the historian’s ability to speak on behalf of the rubble, being that he is not a ballistic specialist or a structural engineer and therefore argues for some kind of skill missing. The court fails to give a verdict and so has happened in subsequent occasions. The problem was not convicting those people, but that the mosque was to be rebuilt by UNESCO, a UN body. At that point Eyal was asked by Riedlmayer himself to recreate the scenario. In international law, you need to prove the facts in 85%, that is the threshold of truth. They (Forensic Architecture) needed to provide a file in which they presented the cause of the destruction 95%. Finally, they realised they could not provide that certainty, but sent a sketch of two monuments, one next to the other, one saying that it was destroyed by certain nationalists; the other one describing the way it was destroyed by NATO. In the following years to this trial, architecture and its representations (plans, photographs) started to frequent the courts and media forums of international justice. The reasons are varied, on the one hand, war became a very urban phenomena, on the other hand, we had new technologies, like aerial satellite images. Forensic architecture as a practice is an analytical method for reconstructing events or histories inscribed in built environments. It seeks to turn a built structure from illustration to an epistemic resource. Until this moment, pictures of ruins and rubbles in international law just served as illustrations, nobody was looking into them until very recently. Besides, the object or the thing of the structure should not be seen in isolation, but as a part of a complex assemblage. Matter is under constant transformation and interlinking, so it should be taken as an entry to retrace networks of connections. Eyal is interested in extending the term forensics beyond the legal realm and through that discourse move on towards thinking the object in the making of history. In fact, the origins of the term forensics are not legal, but a part of rhetorics: not related to the speech of humans, but to the speech of things and mediated by humans. In forensics, things speak and take part in conversation. In latin rhetorics, the speech of things is called prosopopeia: a rhetorical device in which the orator would bring down the gods from heaven, evoque the dead, or give voices to states, objects, buildings and cities. Forensic archaeology, another emerging disciplines, together with forensic anthropology are huge disciplinary apparatuses, but both of them are barely two decades old. Clyde Snow, who investigated the remains of people in Tutankhamun’s tomb, refers to his work as osteobiography, saying: “There is brief but very useful and a very informative biography of an individual contained within his skeleton, if you know how to read it. Bones make great witnesses, they speak softly, but they never forget and they never lie.” The idea that they “never lie” is something




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