Dirt: Streaming the coup

Forensic architecture can’t fix ignorance.

Dirt is a daily email about entertainment.

We interrupt Bridgerton Week for this bulletin:

Today, domestic terrorists loyal to Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol and live-streamed themselves doing it, taking selfies for posterity. In the coming days, law enforcement, journalists, and vigilantes will piece together the identities of the people who did this. It won’t be difficult. 

I first heard the term forensic architecture in 2019 at a lecture given by Eyal Weizman, who founded an agency by the same name in London. In short, forensic architecture might be defined as the marriage of architecture and streaming, looking for architectural evidence within media like photographs, videos, and audio files. 

As Anna Altman writes in n+1, “Wars increasingly take place within cities, so architecture becomes an important source of evidence, revealing the various forces — political, environmental, social — that act on it. Architecture functions as the remnant, what’s left when the dust has settled; or architecture can be the weapon, the means by which violence is enacted.”

Through piecing together first-person and social-media footage, forensic architects have been able to uncover human rights violations in Israel, Syria, Ukraine and the United States.

Since July 2020, I have been doing some form of forensic architecture through my work with the US Press Freedom Tracker, piecing together assaults against the press in Portland, Oregon, sometimes with nothing more than choppy footage to work from. I have learned to recognize city blocks and parks that I have never visited based on architectural features and landscaping. 

I realized that I had reached a turning point in my own relationship to violence when a distinguished photojournalist in his 70s sent me clips of himself being assaulted by law enforcement with the caveat, “If you are not accustomed to physical violence they may be a bit unsettling.” In America, to be unaccustomed to violence is a privilege — I am fortunate to only have witnessed it through the screen. 

Today, streaming the coup meant refreshing Twitter to see footage of insurrectionists breaching the barricades outside of the Capitol building or taking selfies with police. A photo from the inside of Nancy Pelosi’s office became a meme of a photo from the inside of Nancy Pelosi’s office. When I wanted a break from my own feed, I opened my work Twitter and refreshed that feed as well.

A constant flow of real-time media — isn’t that what streaming is?

Something like forensic architecture can tell us who the White House insurrectionists are, but it won’t tell us who we are. The difficult part is admitting that the character of America has been observed and explained many times over by the oppressed. If you’re witnessing fascism on a livestream, you’re too late. Forensic architecture can’t fix ignorance. 

President-elect Joe Biden described today’s violation in uniquely architectural terms: “An assault on the citadel of liberty.” Citadel means little city, but it also refers to the fortified area at the center of a bigger city — like the White House. It’s supposed to be the strongest part of the city; today it was the weakest one.

Just as votes don’t stop bullets, architecture can’t protect the power we freely give away. Livestreams are evidence, but they don’t have the answers.  — By Daisy Alioto

The Dirt: Democracy dies streaming.