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LAW ON TRIAL: Art and Jurisdiction in Investigations of Forensic Architecture and in Exemplary Contemporary Art

Lisa Stuckey
Research Grantee Academy of Fine Arts Vienna | Dissertation Completion Fellowship 2019|20


In her dissertation, Lisa Stuckey critically examines the connection between contemporary art and jurisdiction. The point of departure is the “Investigative Aesthetics” (MACBA 2017) of the London-based research agency Forensic Architecture, which examines current ecological crises and crimes against humanity and brings them into the exhibition and courtroom. A comprehensive art- and cultural-theoretical analysis of these aesthetics of inquiry draws attention to the changed role of museums and courts and makes visible a transformed use of the media: changing from the “artist as ethnographer” (Foster 1995) and the “artist-as-analyst” (Carson 2007) to the “artist-as-detective,” artists use forensic and espionage techniques. The processual products (created in modeling, architectural simulation, cinematic montage, video analysis, spatial installation, and cartographic cross-examination) are pieces of evidence distributed in both legal and exhibition-related contexts. Nevertheless, the agency makes no claim to art; the reference system is the law and its media conditions. This self-conception is subjected to a “‘symptomatic’ reading” (Althusser 1972).

This dissertation — in which terminological reflection such as work-, exhibition- and discourse-analyses are mapped chronotopically — is structured in three perspectives: part I examines the institutional and infrastructural conditions of the investigative practice from the perspective of art and legal criticism. Since this is closely related to the media use, part II addresses (media-)reflexive procedures and the shifts in meaning that emanate from them. Part III presents figurations, which are organized around modes of detection and spying, in order to determine finally which registers (affect, corporeality, ego-speech) are left out of the investigations. In addition, a comparative montage of case studies and stratagems of Forensic Architecture with two artistic positions, the filmmaker Constanze Ruhm and the poet M. NourbeSe Philip, are undertaken in selective excursus.

The central question of this study is why aesthetic and poetic procedures have been entrusted with the radical questioning of social justice in the sense of “response-ability” (Haraway 2008). The interconnectedness of art and law in the mode of criminalistic research is discussed within the framework of the media-philosophical writings on court and tribunal by Cornelia Vismann, the art-philosophical texts on installation and aestheticization by Juliane Rebentisch, the aesthetic concepts of Gilbert Simondon on “transductivity” and “aesthetic intention,” as well as in conceptual differentiations of evidence, leak, media ecology, simulation, sophism, and effectiveness.

Whereas the law became a “model for knowledge systems” in the 18 th century (Vismann/Weitin 2006), today’s literal putting-to-trial of law and justice is connected to a new dimension of disclosure, which follows on from the institutional critique of the 1990s and leads to a functional change in art, for which Lisa Stuckey develops the figure “Law on Trial”.