The Tribunal for Uncertain Objects

How do you take an iceberg to court?

October 27 – 31 2014

Master Class at the Royal College of Art | KABK, The Hague

Global Warming


The 21st century has seen the emergence of a series new legal actors and lethal agents, many of which operate beyond the thresholds of human visibility and perception. These new actors are implicated in activities that we might regard as being of a “criminal” nature. For example crimes related to the devastating environmental transformations produced by the consumption of hydro-carbons and resource extraction or financial crimes in which fast-acting algorithms are released into the market to make the nano-second trades which contributed to the financial crisis of 2008 or state crimes in which intelligence gathering (illegal phone and wire tapping) has turned its surveillance apparatus towards its own citizens. These crimes don’t follow the conventional formats that organised the relationship between accused and defendant—the symmetrical model—that has organised the Courts and Tribunals of The Hague. On the contrary these crimes are radically asymmetrical and distributed. Finding direct causal links that connect the victim to a perpetrator is difficult if not impossible. Moreover who and what kind of evidence would you bring to court to testify on behalf of harm or damages caused to nature. How do you bring an iceberg to court as a claimant or witness?

This week-long project asks students to develop strategies for analysing and representing the complex relationship between uncertain objects, their capacity to testify as “material witnesses” to a crime and the limits of the law in order to design appropriate forums and protocols whereby such non-human objects might testify as to their condition and criminalisation.