A Forensic Aesthetic

This issue of Ciel variable includes a fifty-page special section on the appropriation by visual artists of questions related to forensic evidence. Organized by guest editor Vincent Lavoie, professor of art history and photography at UQAM, this issue continues in the spirit of some of our previous issues focusing on specific aspects of photographic studies at the cutting edge of contemporary photography: Still Moving/Mouvement fixe (CV67), edited by Cheryl Simon, professor of cinema at Concordia University and Dawson College; Art public (CV82), edited by the magazine’s editor; and Documents de performance (CV86), edited by Anne Bénichou, professor of art history in the Department of Visual and Media Arts at UQAM. Similar issues are in preparation, including one on Photography and the Internet, organized by guest editor Suzanne Paquet, professor of art history and photography at the Université de Montréal, and planned to be released in autumn of 2013.

The world of forensics is omnipresent in television series, as exemplified by CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) and its various spin-offs. Forensics has made its presence felt in numerous scientific fields as well as in cultural production. The visual arts are no exception; this special section brings together six authors who analyze issues related to the importation of a paradigm of legal and scientific evidence into the field of art and outline some contemporary manifestations. It’s no surprise that the artworks discussed here have subjects anchored in legal and ethical cases and examine the status of the documents that are used in evidence, while taking sometimes startling detours: a comparison of the images and oral testimonies regarding treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison (Errol Morris); a second look at the details of dollhouse-scale dioramas that reconstruct crime scenes (Corinne May Botz); the decontextualization of legal archives (Emmanuelle Léonard); a performative re-creation of processing of DNA samples in the trial of O. J. Simpson (Paul Vanouse); scenes filmed by the police to record sexual activities in public restrooms (William E. Jones); accounts of courtroom errors (Taryn Simon); and even a meteorological analysis of famous paintings by Tom Thomson, of the Group of Seven (Phil Chadwick).

The term “forensic” thus brings to the foreground of contemporary culture the probative and ethical issues underlying the status of images and scientific samples in judicial and legal decisions and calls for a second look at the limitations of their relevance.

Also in this issue is an excellent interview by Alexis Desgagnés with the Catalonian artist and photography theoretician Joan Fontcuberta – an interview that has the ring of a manifesto on the future of photography in the era of digitization and social media. This interview, which deals with fundamental questions about the status of the photographic image and intellectual property, offers radical points of view that flow from the programmatic statement produced by Fontcuberta and four other curators for the exhibition “From Here On” at the Rencontres de la photographie d’Arles in 2011, and clarifies its presuppositions.

Jacques Doyon

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