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The counter-forensic archive: thinking through forensic art practice’

A seminar by Kathryn Smith for the Centre for Translating Cultures Seminar Series

A seminar by Kathryn Smith for the Centre for Translating Cultures Seminar Series

Event details

Song Ci (alt. Sung Tz’u)’s 13thC Song Dynasty text Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified: the Washing Away of Wrongs is widely regarded as the first forensic science treatise. Its demonstration of procedure and evidence have remained an enduring influence on how claims are made on behalf of objects and locations presented within the various fora we mandate to do the work of justice. 

The forum, from which the word ‘forensic’ is derived, is not only a space of immutable authority, but also of courageous critique and challenge. Archival practices resonate here in relation to the dynamic character of evidence: records can be revisited, judgments overturned and alternative truths retrieved many years after an event has taken place. Such processes might be termed ‘counter-forensic’, particularly if they are citizen-led.

With reference to my own practice, which traverses both forensic and counter-forensic terrains, and the work of others that offer ways to think about the discourses of the ‘forensic’, this seminar offers a practice-based consideration of what it might mean to operate at the interface of the artistic and the forensic. Questions like Are ‘forensic’ and ‘artistic’ competing or complementary ideas? and Can we think of the studio  – the artist’s laboratory – as a critical site for counter-forensic action? are considered in the broader context of contemporary currencies of ‘sci-art’ collaboration, biometric surveillance and pronouncements about our ‘post-truth’/’post-fact’ media realities.

Kathryn Smith is an interdisciplinary visual artist with a specialization in forensic facial identification and depiction. She is currently a PhD researcher and graduate teaching assistant based in Face Lab (Liverpool John Moores University), exploring cross-cultural professional and popular attitudes towards depicting the dead face. She teaches on the new MA Art in Science programme within the Liverpool School of Art and Design, and is actively involved in Face Lab’s historical and forensic facial depiction consultancy work for museums and law enforcement agencies in the UK and elsewhere. 

Her creative practice is characterised by an affinity with investigative and curatorial methods; topics of interest include risk, experimentation and the avant-garde, the visual cultures of science and the ethics of collecting and displaying human remains. She has exhibited and published extensively, including several major curatorial projects for galleries and institutions. Prior to her time in Liverpool, she was Fine Arts programme leader in the Department of Visual Arts, Stellenbosch University from 2006-2015.

Recent publications include ‘Dada South? Experimentation, Radicalism and Resistance. The anatomy of an exhibition in South Africa’ (with Roger van Wyk), in Dada Africa (Schiedegger & Spiess/University of Chicago Press) and a short essay for The Conversation’s ‘Under the Influence’ series

Current projects include 

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Queens Building LT7.1