Forensics is, of course, not simply about science but also about the presentation of scientific findings, about science as an art of persuasion. Derived from the Latin forensis, the word’s root refers to the “forum,” and thus to the practice and skill of making an argument before a professional, political, or legal gathering.
In classical rhetoric, one such skill involved having objects address the forum. Because they do not speak for themselves, there is a need for translation, mediation or interpretation between the “language of things” and that of people. […]
Forensics involves, then, a relation between three components: an object, a mediator, and a forum. Each of these categories is elastic or dynamic. Everything in these interactions is essentially contested, and nothing goes without saying. Because the object and its interpreter constitute a single interlinked rhetorical unit, in order to refute a statement attributed to the thing it is necessary to dismantle the mechanisms of its articulation, which is to say, to show that the object is inauthentic, that its interpreter is biased, or that the communication between them is shortcircuited. The object and its “friend” do not speak the same language, one could say, either because the expert misunderstands or, more radically, because the so-called speech of the object comes entirely from its would-be advocate.
The forum provides the technology with which such claims and counterclaims on behalf of objects can be presented and contested. It includes the arena, the protocols of appearance and evaluation, and the experts. The forum is not a given space, but is produced through a series of entangled performances. Indeed, it does not always exist prior to the presentation of the evidence within it. Forums are gathered precisely around disputed things – because they are disputed. […]
Forums of international law exemplify this. Here the evidence often comes before – in both senses – the forums in which it is finally to be debated. Special tribunals for particular events are established after the facts of violence, and they assemble (themselves), so to speak, around the evidence. Forensics can thus be understood both as an archaeology of the very recent past, and also as a practice engaged in inventing and constructing new forums to come. And when these forums already exist, the matters or issues that come before them can and sometimes do affect their very constitution, as they reorganize themselves in order to accommodate new orders of testimony or evidence.
Reprinted in the 2019 SIFF Catalog (Overexposure) with permission from Sternberg Press.