Material Witness

Forensic Media & the Production of Evidence
MIT Press (forthcoming monograph)

This book 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 (the exposure of celluloid film stock to atmospheric radiation at Chernobyl, discussed in the essay “Hostile Witness”) or as an expression of direct action (an edit in a video sequence documenting destruction in Bosnia, discussed in the essay “Outlawed Edit”), history and by extension politics is encoded at these junctures of ontological intensity. When materials, including computational objects, are subject to external processes that bring about their structural reordering, they produce what philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers has called an “informed material” in the sense that their internal composition becomes progressively enriched by information.  Conceptualising all recoded material (structurally recomposed matter) as informationally enriched troubles a certain distinction between the analogue and digital whereby information is generally regarded as belonging to the purview of immaterial data, whereas properties are what define physical matter. Treating both analogue and digital entities as informed matter fosters greater connectivity between disparate events, forging new categories of assembly across disciplines that have their material stakes in different kinds of questions. Moreover, under specific circumstances and through the intercession of a forensic methodology that enables this informed condition to ‘materialise’, such entities can provide insights into the historical processes out of which they emerged conferring a contingent politics onto matter.