Associated as it is with manipulation, emotional or illusionary trickery, and subjective sentiment, aesthetics seems antithetical to the legal conception of truth as objectively given. But aesthetic considerations traverse all dimensions of forensic operation. Forensics is an aesthetic practice because it involves the modes and the means by which incidents are sensed and evidence is presented.
Aesthetics is employed in different ways across the three domains of forensic operations – the FIELD, the LABORATORY and the FORUM. In the FIELD, it is exemplified in the way in which matter holds the traces of incidents. In its original Greek meaning, aesthetics is that which pertains to the human senses. But matter also has a sensorial capacity. MATERIAL AESTHETICS is the modes and means by which things react to impact or contact. Such an aesthetics of sentient materiality applies equally to bones – as a medium in which nutrition, habits, labour, and abrupt traumas become texture and form – as to buildings and rubble, that can be read as media in which traces of incidents – a firefight or a bomb, or slow processes of decay – are registered. Bones and buildings could be seen as SENSORS, ‘aestheticized’ to their surroundings, their material transformation imaging the changing environment around them.
In the LABORATORY (or for Forensic Architecture, the STUDIO) – aesthetic practices such as film, photography, and modelling are employed to collate image and data, validate facts, assemble cases and compose narratives. Here aesthetic functions are entangled with probative ones, and also facilitate them.
In the FORUM, aesthetics is manifested in the way a case is publically presented. The presentation of an investigation’s findings can involve different techniques and technologies of demonstration, rhetoric, and persuasion: forms of image display, projection and enhancement are used widely in courts and inquiries; and elements of performance are often involved, through gesture, narrativisation and dramatization.
Forensic practitioners are keenly aware of the paradox inherent in the aesthetic dimension of their discipline: they know how essential aesthetics is to the investigative, interpretative and presentational labour necessary to ascertain and assert the most simple of facts; but likewise, how important it is to refer to the truth as something much more obvious and given.