As a group of artists and scholars of images, we discuss artistic practices around disappearances, absences, and forms of resistance to the normative organization of visuality of violence. From different perspectives and regional contexts of conflict, we have tackled questions such as: How can filmic operations of concealment propose another perspective of looking at an image, focusing on what is invisible in the scene? How does this practice enable us to understand the historical layers of the image and avoid factual interpretation of the visible? How do voices in film articulate material invisibilities, fostering imagination and speculation? When images are instrumentalized as evidence in a single narrative, how can they escape into multiple narratives without losing their “form”?
Our conversation has been unfolding in different registers since March 2020. For this conference, we will expand our practice and discussion in the form of a performative, scripted dialogical lecture in which images, gestures, citation (films as well as theory) come together to counter the notion of (visible) evidence. Our presentation evolves as a virtual performance in which we interact with images and text, putting into crisis the requirement of visibility for evidence to exist. We move between the different regional contexts of Lebanon, Palestine-Israel, and Colombia. By addressing specific violent struggles and events, we discuss as artists, theorists and from our artistic and scholarly practice how to engage with the unstable and transformative materiality of contested histories/stories and the present, lifting images out of the discourse of representation and symbolic reparation. In doing so, we propose and discuss artistic practices that challenge the prevailing opposition of visible evidence and imagination: undoing certain concepts, appearances and usages of evidence.
The task of finding evidence becomes a prerequisite for accountability. Without evidence there is no hope for justice in the legal system, as groups like Forensic Architecture or CEPER+Cerosetenta suggest. When there is no “good evidence,” when evidence is not obvious to the eye or it is not organized enough to be brought in front of us, when there is no hope for visible evidence, is there lack of justice as well? Is the relationship between justice and evidence indisputable too? False Positives are extrajudicial executions of civilians whose corpses are made to look like guerrillas killed in combat, which were carried out by the Colombian Army during 2004-2010. “Make to look like“ entails a fabrication of evidence. Between the army’s claims and the family members’ calls for justice there is a competition of narratives. The evidence shows corpses dressed in camouflage and carrying guns. Narratives from the families’ side need to erase these images. In this sense, with false positives as an example among many, erasure as narrative puts the concept of evidence in crisis. How, by erasing as a poetic and political gesture, could a narrative emerge that sets a new horizon for justice?
Claudia Salamanca received her BFA from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia with a scholarship for her work developing films with disenfranchised youth. Salamanca built her undergraduate education by combining art seminars, computer science courses and her community college education as an electronic technician. She started teaching early which made her art practice inseparable from pedagogy. Salamanca earned her M.A. from Rutgers University with a Fulbright Scholarship with emphasis in Science, Technology and Culture and holds a PhD in Philosophy in Rhetoric from UC Berkeley. Currently she is associate professor at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Colombia.
When elevated to symbolic ranks, such as martyrdom, Lebanon’s disappeared sink to the bottom of their disappearance. How to bring materiality into what is governed by invisibility and the absence of substance, without falling into a web of representations and symbols? What remains to be recovered from mass graves when the corpses have been mixed with the material of a reconstructed city? How to discern these corpses inside the concrete of the new esplanades of Beirut Waterfront District? What images can be shot when everything is invisible?
The state coroner declared the bones exhumed at a mass grave to be those of animals. The general prosecutor ruled that corpses found in an ex-military base date back to the 17th century. Given these official counter-narratives, what is the function of evidence? The struggle is rather about challenging narratives politically. Erased, __Ascent of the Invisible proposes a political and historical narrative, materialist and poetic. The film did not aspire to the images created. It rather looked to the gestures that generated these images, which longed to be political. The process of erasing, drawing, cutting, and digging with a scalpel was employed to challenge the impossibilities contained within this context.
Ghassan Halwani lives and works in Beirut. After a brief experience with the profession of artist, and in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli atrocious war on Lebanon, he gave up the artist career and retired to an artisan job to sustain his economies. In 2012, he judged it inevitable not to work on a renewed political discourse on the matter of the disappeared and mass-graves in Lebanon, and completed the film Erased, __Ascent of the Invisible in 2018. Additionally, he has been contributing to the creation of a national archive dedicated to the enforced disappearances in Lebanon.
We juxtapose two research projects on the disappearance and shifting in_visibilities of people and images, embedded in the political and historical contexts of Colombia, Lebanon, and Palestine-Israel.
1. When images disappear, become unavailable or are prevented from becoming visible for political or historical reasons, certain artistic and curatorial counter-strategies seek to transcend this material unavailability. They try to reactivate them in other modes, which leads to questions like: How do images operate, become alive and take effect when someone talks about them, when voices articulate what is materially absent and/or invisible? I examine aesthetic practices in film and the arts that propose an understanding of reality that is not representation-positivist, but also considers layers of the invisible as real and constitutive of reality. Asking, for instance: (How) can an erased photograph provide evidence if imagined through narrative means?
2. In Colombia, disappearance is tangible in different forms and places. It manifests in gestures, spaces, and materialities. Relatives of disappeared ones and communities exposed to this violence give sense to this reality in diverse forms. Some of them by preserving what is left from their beloved ones, others by involving the presence of appearing corpses (of disappeared ones) in their daily life. Both scenarios produce diverse materialities that resist not only neglectance but also what humidity, dust, and light is doing to what has remained in time. I am exploring what is produced by the gestures of daily life amid absence/reappearance, and how they can foster alternative encounters.
Iris Fraueneder studied film and media studies and philosophy at the University of Vienna. Currently she is working on her dissertation project on contemporary filmic and curatorial interventions in the unavailability or absence of (moving) images in Lebanon and Palestine-Israel. PhD candidate in Cultural Analysis (University of Zurich) and in the PhD lab “Epistemologies of Aesthetic Practices” (Collegium Helveticum). 2017–2021: SNF-research fellow, University of Zurich. Since 2021: Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Digital History, Vienna. Additionally, she has been active with the film curating collective “Diskollektiv” since 2015.
As a visual artist, María Ordoñez-Cruz has developed her artistic practice focused on collectivity as a way of creating careful and ethical engagement and sharing knowledge. For the last decade, she has been working with people affected by violence in Colombia, where she comes from. Currently, she is doing a PhD in the Department of Cultural Analysis at the University of Zurich, with a project focused on alternative ecologies and creative forms of re-encounter and recomposition of what has been affected by forced disappearance in Colombia.