New Forensic Architecture project reveals exactly how objects bear witness to crimes.
“What makes Forensic Architecture’s work truly special,” wrote Funambulist founder Léopold Lambert in DAMN°59, is that “it attempts to present objects and buildings as privileged witnesses of the prosecuted crime”. Forensic Architecture director Eyal Weizmann explains:
“It’s very important for me never to hide the fact that artists and architects were the people producing the evidence, because I think the aesthetic eld is one of investigation, a eld of knowledge. I think that when so much of the evidence is now filmed and photographed, the people who should be looking at it are photographers and filmmakers, and when so much of the violence is urban, the people who can read it are architects.”
Now, a detailed report about Forensic Architecture's latest project gives a thrilling insight into just how they extract witness testimonies from design things. Located at Goldsmiths, University in London, Forensic Architecture is a groundbreaking architectural and media research studio that has been working with human rights, social justice and environmental organisations and prosecutors.
Entitled 77sqm_9:26min, the detailed online report offers a step-by-step insight into a counter-investigation into one of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) murders in Germany. The NSU was a neo-Nazi group responsible for 10 racially-motivated murders between 2000 and 2009. The 21-year-old Halit Yozgat was the ninth victim, shot while working at the internet café run by his family in Kassel. Present in the shop at the time of the murder on April 6, 2006, was German intelligence agent Andreas Temme. Nonetheless, Temme did not alert the authorities about his presence, and during his testimony claimed to have been unaware of the murder.
Forensic Architecture’s report investigates if Temme’s testimony can be true. First the investigation is broken down linguistically into possibilities and implications. Then, using the police investigation files that were leaked in 2015, they digitally modelled the café in terms of size, layout and material composition. Based on the model, a full-scale mock-up was built with materials that have the same acoustic qualities as the original. Using the timecode of logins into computers at the internet café, a sequence of events and witness testimonies was drawn up. All of the possibilities previously highlighted were then tested both physically and digitally.
Despite running across 68 pages, the report is a fascinating page-scroller that shows exactly why Temme’s account is far beyond reasonable doubt. What the implications for the family of Halit Yozgat, are not clear. Reads the report:
"As a human rights organisation, Forensic Architecture’s work does not aim to provide legal evidence to the police or the courts, nor does it aim to establish who killed Halit Yozgat. It rather seeks to reveal potential problems in these state processes and to call for an open and impartial investigation of all aspects of this case, including the involvement and interrogation of the police and secret services."
Besides the online publication of the report, 77sqm_9:26min is also on show at Documenta 14 in Kassel, as part of The Society of the Friends of Halit initiative that Artforum has called the most important work in the exhibition. Here the broader significance of the project becomes clear.
During the investigation of the NSU murders, the Islamic families of the victims were treated as the possible criminals and terrorists. The term 'NSU-complex' was coined to describe this systematic racist, pro-Nazi prejudice still inherent in German society. With the project being exhibited in the very city that the murder took place, 77sqm_9:26min is demanding that art and design bear witness to social injustice rather than remain silently complicit.