Material Witness

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This research introduces a new operative concept — the material witness — an entity (object or unit) whose physical properties or technical configuration records evidence of passing events to which it can bear witness. Whether these events register as a by-product of an unintentional encounter or as an expression of direct action, history and by extension politics is registered at these junctures of ontological intensity. Moreover, in disclosing these encoded events, the material witness makes ‘evident’ the very conditions and practices that convert such eventful materials into matters of evidence.

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Through the series of case studies I chart the appearance of a material witness that arises first out of the physical substances of filmic emulsion, magnetic particles, photo-chemistry, metal and dust and then later out of the immaterial realms of bandwidth and code. I track these entities in order to explore the ways in which matter archives and refracts the complex histories of violence in which it is implicated and, by extension, examine the condition of informed materiality that discloses its processing, renders visible the systems in which it is embedded, and activates its political potential. The crucial role that forensics plays in this research is not that of an investigative technical probe directed towards uncovering the ‘true’ reality-traces and absolute histories encoded by matter as might be the case with the practices of forensic science. Rather its role is that of highlighting what new understandings are required of matter and the processes whereby matter comes to matter discursively, in order for the material witness to overcome its purely legal designation or metaphoric expression and function as an operative concept in its own right: material as witness.