Mengele’s Skull The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetic by Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman
“In this absorbing study, Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman show how the politics of human rights was transformed by scientists who treated human remains as a form of photography and photography as a form of human remains. Exposed to all the details of a person’s life like a very sensitive negative, bones were made to speak. Victims and victimizers could now reappear in the lab and take their place in court. The arrival of forensic aesthetics is the arrival of the articulate object. This object that speaks occupies the position of the witness, and in so doing inaugurates a whole new chapter in justice. This fascinating book asks us to reconsider how facts are constructed and opens a new and expanded landscape for thinking.”
-- Beatriz Colomina, Professor of Architecture and Founding Director of the Program in Media and Modernity, Princeton University
“In what ways, Keenan and Weizman ask, can the physical remains of the dead be made to speak? In this lucidly focused text on the exhumation of the historical past, the authors identify a crucial shift in the ongoing work of justice for the victims of state violence and accountability for perpetrators. While avoiding any reductive conclusions, they persuasively insist on the importance of a critical evaluation of how forensic science, with its presumed expertise and ‘objectivity,’ is transforming the nature of evidence.”
-- Jonathan Crary, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Modern Art and Theory, Columbia University
On the margins of aesthetics, science, and law
Forensic aesthetics brings into view the way in which boundaries are currently drawn and stabilized, transgressed and shuttered. In practice, forensics is called upon after the fact: in the aftermath of conflict, crime, and violence, when limits have already been breached, fractured, violated, and are put to the test by ongoing crises that call for resolution. But forensics is not primarily concerned with justice; it is both before justice, as that which establishes the conditions for judgment, and that which happens in place of justice, when agents are no longer accountable. The borderland investigated by forensic aesthetics is one in which the categories of living and dead, subjects and objects, past and present are put into question. It is concerned with the technologies and protocols governing this borderland: its biopolitical containment and expansion, the representation of violence, the (re)construction of historical narrative, or the politics of proof manifest in entertainment and mass media. It is at this frontier that objects are brought to speak.
In this sense, forensics is also a projective practice that constructs languages and spaces of agency. Forensic aesthetics accounts for this blurring of borders—a blurring registered by aesthetics—and also testifies to new sensibilities, describes new territories of action and agency, and critically reflects on the technologies of assessing, calculating, restoring, and redrawing those very boundaries. This book was commissioned to instigate, rather than represent, an exhibition. In this curatorial experiment, Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman were asked to produce a book and Hito Steyerl was asked to respond to their text by creating a series of works. This process constructed a form of research within the margins of science, aesthetics, and law— an entangled set of circumstances from which we can examine these fields anew.