Aesthetics Is a Battleground – Matthew Fuller and Eyal Weizman Provide a Tactical Guide

Investigative Aesthetics: Conflicts and Commons in the Politics of Truth makes sense of various forms of sensemaking

The world for Matthew Fuller and Eyal Weizman is one in which everything senses. From mussels closing when encountering pollution, and buildings recording the actions and associations of their makers and the lives of their inhabitants, to blindfolded prisoners who can recreate a space through their recollections of sounds. Everything is placed in a network of cause and effect, and of total surveillance. And if, as Fuller and Weizman do, you believe that aesthetics relies on the capacity to sense, you’re now dealing with a vastly expanded aesthetic domain that doesn’t merely relate to art and appearances, but to pretty much everything else as well. The world, in that sense, is woven together in a manner that is inherently aesthetic, and one that, when looked at in a certain way, constitutes a sensing commons, one that requires disciplines – among them art, architecture, journalism, oceanography, ecology, technology – to merge, collaborate and mutually contaminate in order to organise the multiple perspectives and datasets on offer, to triangulate truth and make some sort of sense of it all.

The deployment of that commons, as a means of uncovering or assembling buried truths, of making sense of various forms of sensemaking, features prominently in the work of Forensic Architecture (which Weizman heads and on whose advisory board Fuller, a professor of cultural studies at Goldsmiths university, sits), as well as related organisations such as Bellingcat (two of whose investigations feature as case studies in this book), artists such as Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Trevor Paglen and Edmund Clark, and fellow travellers such as Feral Atlas. Such a sensory commons, of course, features just as much as in the tactics of the powerful hegemonic structures that Fuller and Weizman set themselves against. Hyperaesthesia – an overload of sensory experience – can be deployed by governments and corporations with something to hide to make sure that sensation stops making sense: a ‘shock and awe’-type tactic. Aesthetics is a battleground, a contested space; Investigative Aesthetics is part battle-plan or tactical guide and, more fundamentally, part user’s manual for surviving this beautiful and terrifying world.

Investigative Aesthetics: Conflicts and Commons in the Politics of Truth by Matthew Fuller and Eyal Weizman Verso, £14.99 (softcover)

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