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Eyal Weizman on Forensic Architecture in "Violence at the Threshold of Detectability"


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In the April issue of e-flux journal, Eyal Weizman’s essay “Violence at the Threshold of Detectability” examines the use of Forensic Architecture during investigations of sites of criminality in gas chambers and drone warfare in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Gaza. There are several factors in determining these verdicts, including the resolution of the images used as evidence and the use of civilian testimonies – first hand recordings and accounts that construct an architecture of memory.

Read an excerpt here:

The UN, via UNOSAT—its program delivering satellite-image analysis to relief organizations—as well as other research bodies, increasingly monitors violence by purchasing images from the archives of commercially available satellite companies. The analysis is undertaken by studying “before and after” images which are the most common form of forensic montage designed to frame an event between two spatiotemporal conditions: the “before” setting the benchmark against which the “after” state displays the result of an incident. Because satellite images render people invisible, the focus of the analysis turns to architecture, to the pairing or sequencing of buildings with ruins.

Both the act of military killing and the practice of investigating those killings are image-based practices, afforded through the combination of proximity and remoteness that is the condition of media itself. Drone strikes themselves are performed in a high-resolution designed to show information, but are monitored (by NGOs or the UN) in the poor resolution of satellite photographs designed to hide information. This fact inverts one of the foundational principles of forensics since the nineteenth century, namely, that to resolve a crime the police should be able to see more—in higher resolution, using better optics—than the perpetrator of the crime is able to. This inversion is nested in another, because in the case of drone strikes it is state agencies that are the perpetrators. The difference in vision between remote perpetrator and remote witness is the space of denial—but of a different kind than the denial presented earlier in this essay.

The formulation for denial employed by US agencies is officially sanctioned as the “Glomar response,” stating that US state agencies are authorized to “neither confirm nor deny” the existence—or nonexistence—of documents and policies such as a secret war of assassination in Pakistan. To say “this is untrue,” or “this did not happen,” is an antithesis that requires a counter narrative. Glomarization is however a form of denial that aims to add no information whatsoever. This form of denial has its corollary in the visual field through the satellite image’s inability to neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of holes in roofs that would otherwise constitute evidence of state-sanctioned violence. This form of denial is not simply rhetorical, but rather is made possible by the production of a frontier that has territorial, juridical, and visual characteristics.

Read the full article here.