Forensic Architecture @ the ICA
hello, ok sO! this week’s review is a commission! we have been commissioned by the ICA to write about their Forensic Architecture show (the fee they paid us is on our accounts page, have a peep if ur nosy). so we’ll publish this review by Zarina (below) on Sunday 22nd and Gab will publish her review on Tuesday 24th; from Tuesday till the next Sunday we’ll be adding to this long-read review, responding to each others’ thoughts and words; and also carrying on a more informal conversation on the Social Creative Network (link). SO the Social Creative Network is a fb group loosely connected to the ICA, mostly j a nice place for ppl to share what’s going on, talk, post articles ppl might be interested in. It’s chaotic good. or chaotic neutral-good. We’ll be thinking thru things on there, chatting to ppl (hopefully). As the White Pube doesn’t rly have a comments section, we’re hoping the Social Creative Network posts will become a comments section of sorts. We hope u will have some thoughts for us also! We’re also doing a gallery tour of the show on Thursday 3rd May @ 6.30pm n u can find tickets here, u can come and heckle us in person as well as online. ok, that’s all, lots of love,,, TWPxxx
FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE: COUNTER INVESTIGATIONS @ ICA
emoji summary: tbc
I literally fell into the ICA yesterday u kno. Fell over my own legs, sweaty and tired, thirsty also; Very deeply jet lagged. It was ok tho; a nice moment to have art as company in my disorientation. The show on at the moment is Forensic Architecture: Counter Investigations. As I was walking round, it slowly crept up on me how many of these (or their) works I had seen before; in one of our first, earliest reviews I spoke about A Drone Strike In Miranshah when I saw it at the Photographer’s Gallery, and we’d seen the Nakba Day Killings at Liverpool Biennial in 2016 (it was amazing tbh). It seems unimportant, but in the moment it mattered to me. An easy familiarity, a nodded head to ur acquaintance. The works i had seen before were lil bits, breadcrumbs leading up to the Big Loaf. I have never seen Forensic Architecture or their work in Big Space.
So here’s the skinny: Forensic Architecture is an agency made up of not j artists (thank god) but architects,, software developers, investigative journalists, archeologists, lawyers, and scientists. Their work takes this very new and weird wet form; heavy, dense, a meaty loaf delivered straight to ur eyes and lugholes. Like a documentary, like a seminar, like a package or a folder dropped to ur doorstep; it feels like a rly nice way to receive information or a picture of a scene. To approach events that have happened; to unpack the event nd aftermath, the bits in between and beyond; so slowly, so painstaking that it must be a labour of love
I like thinking about it like this: i rly like youtube drama videos. There’s this subculture on Youtube of channels entirely dedicated to talking about youtube specific scandals. Like when Kathleen Lights said the N Word at Jaclyn Hill’s house. The forensic architecture videos sit on that level, same same. Where reading through Guru Gossip threads is tiresome and long and information takes painstaking minutes to decipher and unpick; these drama videos deliver all the wholesome meaty underbelly in less than 10 minutes. While the forensic architecture videos take longer, deliver more painstakingly laboured snippets (like small morsels, information lands on ur tongue) they feel like an equivalent level compared to trawling through the folders and files and documents. These videos are someone taking the time to make the information absorbable. I appreciate it immensely. I value that labour n wish to honour it w my undivided attention (a rare thing I can tell u)
Bc it deserves this meaty heavy attention. The work Forensic Architecture do is Ordered Good; working with the disenfranchised, the subaltern, the oppressed; helping them to put into words the injustices they have suffered (but put into words well and wholly with the backbone of receipts so suffering is irrefutable, qualified, quantified, and evidenced). Ordered Good in its service n willingness to be in service. I am glad to see art that is willing to place weight where it wants change; art that leans in against the Wrong and the Old and the Bad and Harmful. Glad someone, anyone is listening this intently and acting as conduit to the things they have listened to. Delicate, loving, tenderly caring. Labour infrequently done (well).
I want to pick up where Zarina finished her first text on this exhibition, i wanna make these words darker, more urgent, because: Normally as I go around an exhibition I am checking my body-thoughts 2 figure out a reaction, but that couldn’t really happen here. so I feel like my own mode of embodied criticism might shift in these words. I’m seeing this exhibition and writing about it in the same breathe, on the same afternoon, and
after being in the exhibition for 3 and a half hours i was like, vacating my own body, new and stuck across these stories of state-protected trauma and death now. I had sat at each point and listened q intently, harder than I normally would (I read the wall texts too); about Halit Yozgat’s racist-killing in an internet cafe in Germany in 2006 and how it happened; the Nabka Day Killings of two young Palestinian boys by Israeli soldiers who claimed to be/lied about using rubber-coated steel bullets and not live fire; the enforced disappearance of 43 student protesters in Mexico as they were ambushed on coaches by a coalition of criminal organisations and the literal police; and the analysis of smoke plumes in the sky during the 2014 Gaza War. What those blurbs normally sound like to me are ‘some artists have tried their best to absorb and present their social responsibility in reading the news really careful, making notes / and / making art about political failings’ but ah, no,
it was sincere, for once! what!
Political art can so easily be self-serving. i am just over and over again seeing performative activism offered up to social-clout dead ends, by people who care more about their own valiant struggle to make it as an artist than people’s literal lives and how they experience the world. But here, each film by Forensic Architecture has real intention,, beyond ending up in a gallery and claiming an artist fee for the work. It’s not following aesthetic trends 2 make it to Frieze, it’s not sellable or something to be hung on the wall. with this work, politics and justice come first; n maybe that’s due in part to Forensic Architecture not being an artist collective but rather a group of people who are interested in criticising international structures of policing and law proceedings. Ie, their investigation into the literal play by play of Halit Yozgat’s murder for one, was used in court and across German media and also eventually showed at Documenta to motivate the state towards justice in a the case that is ongoing. In their investigations, they are working literally and speaking blandly of dates, times, locations, sound waves and bullets and so on, working and just working. this isn’t an artistic gesture that performs the professional legislative vocabulary of various judicial systems. The information has to be like this, cold media, plain to be taken seriously and swallowed easily. FA are doing effective performative activism by visualising information; and their actions have been genuinely motivating in a ‘the evidence is before ur eyes’ kinda way; it is just then a bonus it can be distributed and shown in different contexts, adaptable, steadfast, educational. And i think audiences need this clarity, I know as a western white person who was not brought up political nor ever taught the words to articulate or even grasp those shapes, Forensic Architectures reifying (making concrete) these events was effective, I left knowing a lot more and being a lot more afraid. Whether that reifying is a violent act in itself, I don’t know. Bringing those stories into the literal ICA in clean central london on the same road as the queen, yes, that feels tense and naked. but from what is presented in the exhibition (which has to be also biased to FA’s image a little, but where, again, I don’t know), the families of the late victim’s and the aggravated communities /both micro and macro/ that they were a part of seem to want the message spread and fully delivered, and i got that, that intention was successful.
the biggest miss for me was the upstairs gallery rooms being stripped of wallpaper and having screws etc showing, and thus un-decorated to the theme of violence. That was disingenuous, esp when the plainness of the curation downstairs (as plain as corporate can be) was able to step back and let the films and diagrams talk.
it did feel overall melancholic tho, like, Forensic Architecture wouldn’t have to exist if governments could be trusted to provide real protection and services and welfare, in the same way charities wouldn’t exist either if governments were up to par.
i will leave it there for zarina to pick up -
there’s a thing gab said above about “not following aesthetic trends 2 make it to Frieze” - - - -> we wrote about work and instagram and aesthetics before (MIMA summer shows) but i didn’t see that show, missed that convo Gab had. i think i felt it here, halfway at least. Not so much walking round with the sinking feeling of being challenged by the aesthetic plain-ness. it was a nice plain-ness, the bland of sticky white rice u need when ur having a curry w thick gravy;;; heavy w sauce n spice. i was glad 2 see medium shrink in the face of message; i was only glad. it was more that i was hit by the wave of info that bolstered, rather than challenged or agreed. bc let’s be honest, both me n gab had said ~neutral/ordered good~ it is not ~neutral/ordered neutral~. It’s like… i heard recently (i can’t remember where) that ur more likely to quickly retain facts that u agree with; absorb them into ur own understanding and turn that around to be deployed within ur own vocabulary. I feel like i needed this blandness, this plain white rice to contrast starkly against my own opinion. I am right. I know i know i am. It is only nice to be affirmed by something that doesn’t look like complicity. It is strengthening, sustaining, it stops that part of me, that ~mercury in cancer~ that is willing to hear the other side. I need to stop, i need to be steadfast and resolute. I will be from now on, inshallah.
work that is categorically not sellable, not to be hung on a wall; bc it is an artwork that feels productive, active and hot. i keep seeing things on twitter about prison / the prison industrial complex; the circularity of carceral punishment as a means to justify the end (the end being keeping those already in power, in power, and those oppressed already, even further and more firmly disenfranchised 4 good measure). i have never trusted the police. never ever. who does? i remember going to a magistrates court with my year 9 PSHE class and finding the whole thing grotesque; especially the way my teacher was trying to turn other ppl’s punishment & misery; these holes in their lives, turning this into a teachable moment. I remember specifically we came out of one session in the court and my teacher turned round to the court, posh voice whole w emotion, and said, “now girls, did you see? that man on trial had his fingers crossed behind his back!” Trying to turn this tiny human act into spectacle from which we could all learn at his expense. i remember being stood in that hallway in hot silence, face burning, hands tingling with what i now understand to be anger. These conversations and words ppl have uttered on twitter have given me a vocabulary with which to understand both those moments and also this show. i can't find them now, but i will keep searching.
My first text felt unsettled;; like a stomach churning, like a straight face as u dash to the nearest toilet. I still don’t think i know what i think about this show. I think i want to believe it is Good. I don’t think it is performative, turning tiny human moments into teachable spectacle like Mrs Pyett standing proudly in her middle class liberality. I didn’t feel the same rage and spite towards it (unless my body failed in its task as litmus paper, missed a trick). I want badly to believe that where the state fails in its pretence of neutrality (police as authoritarian right disguised/dressed up as authoritarian neutral) FA have tried their utmost to fill the void left by that; to police by silently sorting through paper and image, sound clip and email, tiny scraps;; by doing the labour of stitching together events as they happened truly with a kind of neutrality that has a slant or a stance (ofc, we r all in possession of a position; and if we claim to not have one, that is a position in itself). by doing that labour, i want to believe that they are acting, in some small way, as a decentralised plug in the gap left by the police force/armed forces of the state/the state judiciary system. I say i want to believe bc i do; but it is a soft want. a soft glad-ness.
what u’ve written about last there, about the slow labour of stitching together information, i can’t stop thinking of the output of that, the final finish; them grabbing setting spray to keep everything in place. the forms they’ve chosen in their diagrams and videos are so exacccting and probably interminably boring for a lot of people and also myself on most days outside of being commissioned to pay attention: I love 2 b honest: I can’t do any real work without watching 5 youtube procrastination videos first.
I saw someone post on Instagram about their work as a feminist academic and how depleting it was that academic work, however valuable it is to however many ppl, can so easily go untouched because of its form. the instagram post mentioned the average readership for an academic paper was TWO READS - and u gotta realise those things are like, 30,000 words long etc. And I’m saying 30,000 like I know, as if i’ve ever looked at one. I feel very stubborn when it comes to form but only because yes i am honest and lacking and like to figure out my ways. How do i want these things to enter my body? i put my phone on my chest and listen to my boyfriend’s album to fall asleep; sometimes if there’s a big essay everyone is talking about in the art world and I know i should read it, I highlight all the words and get Siri to read it out loud because otherwise I won’t get to the end of it,,, turning it into a podcast of sorts; and if I am eating alone I want to be watching a video at the same time, and I wont raise anything to my mouth until I press play and the opening credits are done.
If you illustrated an essay and made it into a video, my eyes would stay open. and I think about pace in these forms too; My friends in senior school used to play tv shows on 1.5x speed on VLC player so they could marathon an entire season of somethin in a day. I think about that so often, like they became able to change the course of time to satisfy themselves. In Forensic Architecture, the videos and I got along but the timelines, I couldn’t really mount them as tho my eyes were sad they weren’t 5 metres wide and 2 and a half metres tall to see all the information in one go. But then, how else do u show a timeline?
this morning Forensic Architecture were announced on the list of turner prize nominees and after thinking ‘i bet everyone obsesses over them for the same reasons they did Assemble, excited to shout about them nOt BEinG an ArTisT’ / spongebob meme / I got excited bc of the focus they will now have in the art world,, a big show at Tate Britain during the public view and run up to the turner prize announcement and so on. Imagine if their Grenfell case was ready for that London-London-stage, imagine how politically and socially motivating it would be. but ye i also thought, how many people will find the form too boring to engage with, even though it’s better than academic journal but not as magnetising as say, adam curtis on bbc iplayer. I hope britain comes 2 the gallery in the mood for Forensic Architecture, i really really do.
I read Gab’s post above nodding furiously, eyes wide in agreement. Maybe this is something i have been tiptoeing around, just a bit; bc it’s maybe bit embarrassing to admit that I value Youtube videos over TV bc of their brevity. I don’t rly read anymore; unless it’s an article I’ve found linked on Twitter. I used to save up saved links n sunday mornings, in bed while my boy was still asleep, i’d read all these lil thoughts, 1st person essays, news bits, long reads, and art essays; sunlight streaming in through the window as i lay in bed. idk why i stopped. Maybe i j stopped using Facebook, deleted the app, n i’ve only just realised you can bookmark things on twitter. But having said that, since i stopped i don’t think I’ve noticed missing anything? i j sleep in on sundays w my boy, face on his chest, hand to his face, early morning sunlight streaming over us both. I am not sorry for putting my time to better use by lying skin 2 skin w him. i think i have just adjusted the parameters of the way i consume text. Broken it down: I spend more time on twitter, AJ+ have turned the news into tiny little 30 second videos, twitter moments are great for being on the toilet, youtube allows me to admit that I have an attention span of about 5 minutes n by then I am bored. I want content that is like a magazine show, tiny lil segments i can munch on and leave. I WANT CONTENT THAT IS LIKE TAPAS, small plates for us all to share. As I am saying this i now think: is this wild, am i embarrassing myself? i cannot wait for love island this summer, i am so glad 20 seasons of TOWIE are now on netflix. i am not being ironic, i am a sincere consumer of reality tv. I rly like watching itv Be; their ~ladies who are around during the daytime~ channel. i like things that are easy to slip into, that i can do other things around. i think that is generous and accommodating in a way i like. Unlike thick books and dense impenetrable text, they are easy company, fun 2 be around.
The Forensic Architecture show was not a mode i was comfortable with and i think that is why my first review felt like a stomach churning. I wasn’t used to it, it was a brand new flavour while being quite old fashioned. I don’t think i want it to be like those AJ+ video clips; showing scenes of a drone strike in Yemen all silent with text plastered over. I think it has been challenging for me to force my attention span to hold itself up straight throughout this all. Some are quicker, more overload, and more adept at keeping me tuned in (Rafah: Black Friday) and others from Forensic Oceanography, downstairs in the Theatre, i felt like i was trying rly hard to pay attention in a lecture, but always being 5 seconds behind everyone else. I think this is less like a social awkwardness around admitting to things that middle class ppl have decided are vacuous and not worth ur time. This is more like, i am embarrassed my attention span is showing me up in front of everyone when I’m watching a video about the Left to Die boat. I don’t want to admit it, i feel like i’ve ruined myself n have to slowly correct this now. idk how to handle it. I don’t think FA should bend their research around me and my wonky attention span, but i am also now not sure there’s something wrong with me having an attention span that is off kilter. I j disagreed w Gab when she said she got along w the videos & not the timelines. I skimmed through the timelines, trusting that any information the contained was in the video. I struggled w each video differently. Some of them moved t the same pace as me, some of them i tripped over, some i slid right through. Like, earlier i said how glad I was to see medium shrink in the face of message. N i am glad i am so so glad. I think am j also sad that my mind didn’t catch up w my body as my body said that. I am sad i kinda engaged w it all unevenly across the board bc of this weird category I’ve made called “things that keep my mind busy”. n it feels arbitrary n awful.
I am under the quilt with my laptop hot over me, reading Zarina’s post from today. (when my auntie was training as a mature student to be a nurse, she used to make my cousin put his laptop on a dinner tray and Then on his lap because she said it would send weird killer rays through to his balls and he wouldn’t be able to have babies in the future. it is called a laptop though).
I wonder if I am running out of words for these reviews we are leaving
I don’t think so, I am excited to do the tour next week, over the course of this week i have gotten really excited by Forensic Architecture, i feel like writing so much has allowed me to spend time with their model and I back them. I’ve just caught up with a friend who is now working as a civil servant, who studied geography at uni and cares v much about environmental and social policies and I immediately was like: YOU SHOULD SEE THIS EXHIBITION AT THE ICA AND THEN YOU SHOULD GO TO GOLDSMITHS AND DO AN MA IN FORENSIC ARCHITECTURE because secretly now I want to do that but I’m not clever enough. I will just intently watch their media outcomes of cases and investigations and get my education there - i also wish i lived in london so i could attend all the events and talks FA are doing as a part of their exhibition, which we haven’t touched on yet in this writing bc we haven’t attended anything, but just 2 say I am glad there is a programme alongside the show, that is generous and i am jealous.
but yes, today I had time today so i walked down to the gallery again to see the work in the Theatre room, which i didnt get to on tuesday because honestly this exhibition is hours long. still thinking about attention: I realised watching one of the works in there that I’d seen it at the Berwick Film Festival last year and fully fallen asleep - and actually it was the only film of about 40 we watched that closed the book on my eyes. which yeah, safe girl in the uk falls asleep watching acute film on the EU Commission-attributed deaths of over 1000 syrian refugees on TWO DAYS crossing the Mediterranean after Italy cancelled their rescue plan as a DETERRENT for people attempting to cross over - -
- that is crude and not a good look and I feel ashamed. The video, Death By Rescue, is projected here onto a flat bed screen, it somehow makes more sense oriented like that, rolling the map out on the floor and standing over it, with power, shame. these 2 ways of watching something made me think of another work in the show -
the case is the Nakba Day Killings of two Palestinian teenagers Nadeem Nawara and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh Abu Daher in 2014, where Forensic Architecture study the audio/visual evidence of news and individual footage of the shootings to prove the Israeli soldiers used live fire on these two boys from afar, who were just walking unarmed and posing them no threat. the act was also more sinister bc the shooter was concealing the live fire by having the gun set up to look like it was for use with rubber-coated bullets. FA’s investigation was commissioned to prosecute the soldier, successfully, and relied on one of the FA member’s, Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s, sound analysis of guns, ammunition and silencers etc. So 2 years ago, I had actually seen Abu Hamdan’s own separate video ‘Rubber Coated Steel’ at the Liverpool Biennial, which is an animated presentation of his work on this case. He has images and sound waves very slowly attached to targets coming forward to the viewer - u know the ones you see in shooting ranges (on tv), bits of paper attached to mechanics that you can bring forward to you to see if and where you made a hit; obviously fitting. I think the words were just on subtitles so it was an incredibly still video, with just the affecting sound of the evidence and images stuck to the targets coming towards you, like metal scraping as the animation made its way forward. the kind of video you hold your breathe through, so so visually different and emotive, and yet still the deadpan way of laying out information;; it is what it is. I wonder what the rest of Forensic Architecture thought of Abu Hamdan’s take, bc it’s obviously not fitting with their own voice - it’s sadder, bitter. And I wonder if anyone else in FA has built artwork like a coping mechanism around the cases they are so close to. i feel like it might undo some of the politics, of what this work should do, and what it should try not to do (all the risk of spectacle, even if a spectacle is slow-burning etc). ah. I am going to sleep. it is 1am and I do not know the answers to these questions.
29/04;; FINAL POST
I think I have quite literally run out of words with which to talk about this exhibition. I think I am glad about that though; glad I have squeezed all the words out of myself, glad I have spent the time. This has been/has felt rigorous. I am glad to have held my attention, to have had an unbendable discipline with this. Honestly I don’t think it would have been a worthwhile review if we’d just dropped in, whizzed round and written something quick sharp; hashed it out on the tube home. I am glad and happy that I have carried this show with me for a whole week, taken it with me in my pocket. I am glad ppl have been responding wisely to my body thoughts with their own and pointing at the gaps I’d missed. I am glad to be reminded that I can always sharpen the blade of my own somatic reaction. I feel like I have moved over the course of this exercise; I have written while feeling something shift and I think that shifting thing has been my own taste(?) I think I think. I am happy to reassess the power stance I take in an exhibition. I think this show wasn’t art. Or at least not just art only - no. I don’t mean this. I think I am only shocked by seeing art that is useful or productive or maybe actually active in its politicality (a word) rather than being only overcome with its own spectacle. I don’t know what to do with that, where to place that bc I don’t rly see it all too often. I think that productivity or action is different to work I usually see that is heavy w it’s own politics or taking steps towards soothing, to being reparative. I am glad to see action and art taking steps in the world. I hope FA thrash Luke Willis Thompson for the TP (Turner prize or toilet paper? You decide.) i hope their energy n heat doesn’t fizzle out. I don’t think it will; it’s not dependent on the art world for sustaining or supporting its momentum (another thing I am glad and thankful for, bc all too often things that r useful and good like this fizzle out bc they r let down by the structures that r meant to hold them up). I am glad I am glad I am glad. and grateful to Forensic Architecture for doing the work when the state wont, their practice is as caring as it is astute.