Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, is one of the nominees in the shortlist for a Turner Prize this year, in something that many consider an unexpected turn of events.
Forensic Architecture aims to visualise human rights violations from around the world, and consists of journalists, filmmakers, artists, lawyers and software developers. Their work includes ‘3D models of sites of conflict’ to help prove wrongdoing.
The ‘architectural detective agency’, as it is sometimes referred to, was founded in 2011, funded by a grant from the European Research Council, and is hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture, in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths.
The goal behind the organisation’s activities is to “provide new kinds of evidence for international prosecution teams, political organisations, NGOs and international institutions such as the UN”, according to the official website.
Their works are widespread, varying from a media reconstruction of the Grenfell Tower fire, to the war operations in Syria. All projects are centred on human rights abuse, disasters and tragedies, and the international involvement in those catastrophes.
Eyal Weizman, director of the agency and a professor of Spatial and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, told Wired: “A war starts; tens of thousands of foreign people enter into a familiar city that has hundreds of thousands of people in it and at that moment everything starts recording.
“People’s memory records, the grass records, the trees record, the plumes in the air record, the concrete records. Everything is recording in a variable way.
“You need to develop ways of interpreting and reading and mediating those things.”
People have questioned Forensic Architecture’s nomination. Those disagreeing claim that they are “too political” and that “art is dead”.
The Turner Prize, named after the English painter Joseph M. W. Turner, is an award that is annually given to an “outstanding visual artist”.
The award is always wildly publicised in the media and brings the winners incredible media exposure.
The prize was established in 1984 and highly values controversial forms of art that cause debate, both on the idea behind the art presented and on the techniques it is executed with.
Forensic Architecture is not the first Turner Prize nominee associated with Goldsmiths.
In 2015, Assemble, a team of young architects based in Stratford, east London, was responsible for a design of a proposed Goldsmiths art gallery, and won the prestigious prize.
In addition to that, two other artists that were shortlisted that year were Goldsmiths alumni.