The rise of counterfactual politics on- and off-line, presents societies with a dilemma. One option is to buttress the institutional basis of factual authority by supporting the existing judiciary, media, universities and cultural venues. Another approach, presented here, is more risky: to seize the contemporary moment of institutional crisis as an opportunity for a radical transformation of the way facts are produced and disseminated. This approach responds to the current skepticism towards institutional pronouncements with a vital form of collective truth-production; one that is both diffused and diverse, based on establishing an expanded community of practice that incorporates aesthetic and scientific sensibilities. Organized by one such community of practice, the Investigative Commons, this event brings together investigators, lawyers, activists, artists, architects and academics. They will discuss the ways in which new investigative practices have the potential to challenge different forums for the presentations of facts and articulation of claims: the mainstream media brought into crisis by the growth of ‘open source’ and 'citizen’ journalism; museums, which have been turned into sites of political contestation; and the courts where new kind of evidence, citizen-produced and crowd-verified, challenges traditional legal process.
The internet is the largest, most varied and complex information system ever developed. Open-source investigation (OSI) entails gathering, verifying, analyzing, synchronizing, geo-locating and cross-referencing evidentiary material, found amongst vast reams of online data, available to all, often in real time. In these new conditions of information sharing, it is often frontline communities, together with a network of remote and proximate activists and experts, that are first to produce and disseminate visual evidence of violence, well before the mainstream media. Social organizations now take over the means of (evidence) production and define how reality around them is framed and mobilized. This panel explores how OSI inaugurated a new field of journalism, one that is increasingly incorporated into mainstream media outlets. The participants will discuss how such investigative practices should not only be thought of as a set of techniques, but as grounded in, and feeding back into, new modes of social organization and arrangements of labor.
Social mobilization, protests, boycotts, shutdowns, and occupations by self-organized activists have turned cultural spaces into sites of contestation and accountability. A new investigative aesthetics has mobilized the tools and sensibilities of artists and architects to expose the complicity of art institutions and their patrons' complicity in unjust practices and structures, leveraging the visibility of museums to exercise political pressure. Inviting such practices into art spaces is not only intended to place new techniques and issues on the wall, but oriented toward precipitating a crisis that poses a set of challenges – and demands – to institutions. This expands the political vocabulary of aesthetic practices from institutional critique, formative in highlighting the economical and ideological forces shaping art, to institutional contestation. The panel will discuss the places where the art system and contemporary liberation struggles meet.
Video evidence found online often contains both representations of the reality around the videographers and the voice of the videographer themselves: crying, cursing, shouting, or narrating. As such, user-generated videos break the received division between evidence (referring to things) and testimony (referring to people). Woven together with other media – such as satellite imagery or CCTV footage – and oral or written testimony, such videos can add up to crucial evidence, with the potential for reshaping judicial processes. And as user-generated video evidence becomes increasingly common in evidencing rights violations, skills that previously had no part in the legal process – such as those of architects and filmmakers – are becoming essential in a new “forensic aesthetics.” When courts fail to deliver justice, whether by failing to recognize new media evidence or by virtue of their outmoded structures and practices, alternative forums such as people’s tribunals can emerge as sites in which claims for accountability can be made. This panel will explore how new practices of evidence-production can turn courts into sites of political contestation, struggles and claims for transformation.
Closing Remarks by Wolfgang Kaleck