Rights architects among nominees for UK’s Turner Prize

Architectural researcher Stefan Laxness (L) and principal investigator Eyal Weizman sitting in front of screens showing Syria's Saidnaya military prison
AFP

London (AFP) – An organisation which recreated the inside of a Syrian prison in harrowing 3D detail was among the four nominees for Britain’s Turner Prize for contemporary art announced on Thursday.

London-based Forensic Architecture, which uses architectural rendering software to investigate potential war crimes, used prisoner accounts to build a digital model of Saidnaya prison.

Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson announced the shortlist at an event in London, saying all the artists nominated “are tackling the most pressing political and humanitarian issues of today”.

Oliver Basciano, art critic and member of the jury said that the four nominees “combine a politicking with a sense of elegance, a sense of aesthetic seduction in their work”.

The others include Luke Willis Thompson, who made a black and white silent film portrait of Diamond Reynolds, a woman who live-streamed the immediate aftermath of her African American boyfriend’s death during a traffic stop in the US.

Glasgow-based artist Charlotte Prodger was praised by jurors for “the nuanced way in which she deals with identity politics, particularly from a queer perspective”.

The jury said films made by the fourth nominee, Naeem Mohaiemen, “explore post-colonial identity, migration, exile and refuge”.

An exhibition of the shortlisted artists will open at Tate Britain on September 25 and the winner will be announced in December.

Forensic Architecture was set up in 2011 by Israeli activist and architect Eyal Weizman.

Its interdisciplinary laboratory specialises in producing analysis and evidence to be used in human rights cases brought to international courts, with architecture a key tool in helping to accurately recreate events occurring in chaotic surroundings.

Before FA, no surveillance groups or journalists had been able to “access” the notorious Saidnaya military prison, located 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Damascus and used by the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

The laboratory pieced together testimonies given to Amnesty by former prisoners with satellite images found on the Google search engine and other publicly available online material. 

Other studies conducted by the agency include reconstruction the August 2014 bombing of Gaza, Guatemala’s Ixil genocide of 1978-1984 and the 2011 sinking in the Mediterranean of a boat carrying 63 migrants from Libya.

FA is currently the only provider of such analysis, working with Human Rights Watch, international courts and the United Nations with key evidence.

The work combines traditional disciplines, such as mapping, ecology and law, with new technologies like 3D, as-well as the testimonies of victims and prominent witnesses.

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