Susan Schuppli’s art and scholarship introduces a concept, she calls “material witness…an exploration of the role of matter as both registering external events as well as exposing the practices and procedures that enable such matter to bear witness.” Material witnesses are the structures and substances in the built environment, that provide traces of complex interactions and circumstantial evidence that can be decoded and reassembled back into a narrative of actual events.
Schuppli’s talk will focus on the luminescent and spectral colors of her photographs which capture the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the ways in which certain contaminated or polluted environments function as proto-photographic systems. Schuppli says, “I’m less interested in a picture of an oil spill and more into the way in which the chemical arrangements of the molecules within that oil spill actually produce a parabolic mirror, which refracts light in a way that is very similar to other natural optical systems.” She will provide tools for interpreting the oil spill as an image-producing technology and argue that the oil spill is reflecting an ‘extreme image’ or ‘dirty image’ back at us. “The crucial role that forensics plays in this research is not that of an investigative technical probe directed towards uncovering the ‘true’ reality-traces and absolute histories encoded by matter as might be the case with the practices of forensic science. Rather its role is that of highlighting what new understandings are required of matter and the processes whereby matter comes to matter discursively, in order for the material witness to overcome its purely legal designation or metaphoric expression and function as an operative concept in its own right: material as witness.”
Susan Schuppli is a Swiss-Canadian artist who lives and works in the UK. Her work examines material evidence from war and conflict to environmental disasters. Creative projects have been exhibited throughout Europe, Asia, Canada, and the US. Recent commissioned works include Learning from Ice, Toronto Biennial of Art; Nature Represents Itself, SculptureCenter; Trace Evidence, Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden; and Atmospheric Feedback Loops, a Vertical Cinema project for Sonic Acts, Amsterdam. She has published widely within the context of media and politics and is author of the forthcoming book, Material Witness (MIT Press, 2019). She received the ICP Infinity Award for Critical Writing and Research in 2016. Schuppli is Director of the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University of London and is an affiliated artist-researcher as well as board chair of Forensic Architecture.