The Investigative Commons is an expanded community of practice that includes investigative agencies and reporters, lawyers, activists, whistleblowers, scientists, artists, architects, filmmakers, software developers and cultural institutions. Amongst us are members of communities, organizations and individuals who are at the forefront of interconnected struggles.

We investigate the involvement and complicity of state and corporate agencies in cases of right-wing violence, racist policing and border regimes, urban warfare, gender-based violence, violations of labor rights, and cyber-surveillance, while supporting demands for reparations for the ongoing crimes of colonialism.

Our evidence is used where it can best generate change and is often featured in a range of different forums: national and international courts, civil tribunals and truth commissions, in the media and in art and cultural venues.

In our Berlin offices, the Investigative Commons seeks to provide a dynamic platform to advance conceptual and technical research through skill-sharing and co-learning, and promote critical debate about contemporary political challenges, technology, human rights, media and aesthetics through a public program consisting of lectures, workshops, and conferences.

Who we are

Hosts

Forensic Architecture

Forensic Architecture (FA) is a multidisciplinary research group based at Goldsmiths, University of London, that uses architectural techniques and technologies to investigate cases of state violence and violations of human rights around the world.

Forensis

Forensis is FA’s sister agency in Berlin. Founded in 2021 as a non-profit association, Forensis is working for and in collaboration with individuals and communities affected by state and corporate violence, to support their demands for justice, reparations, and accountability.

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

ECCHR is a global NGO that, in collaboration with partners and affected people, intervenes legally to oppose human rights violations and to advocate for the realization of universal human rights.

Friends

Center for Spatial Technologies
Febrayer Network
Border Forensics
Mnemonic
Laura Poitras
Bellingcat
FA Bogota
FA Mexico
al-Haq FA Unit in Ramallah

Methodology

Open Verification

Open verification – the central methodology of the Investigative Commons – depends on the creation of a community of practice in which the production of an investigation is socialized. Rather than being confined to the black boxes of institutional authority, it is based on open processes and new alignments between different actors and institutions of diverse types and standings: people who experience violence firsthand and lead the struggle for justice, activists who take their side, and a diffused network of open-source investigators, scientists, and other experts.

Resisting the actions that tear apart our common lived-world, our work is collaborative, situated, poli-perspectival and based on diverse forms of knowledge and expertise. Our shared alignment is in pursuit of accountability. A communal interrogation of events relies on the establishment of a social contract that includes all the participants in a growing assemblage of production and dissemination of knowledge. Our cases not only establish evidence of what has happened, but also embody the social relations which made this evidence possible.

The result is a diffused "commons" in which the production of facts constitutes the foundation of an expanding epistemic community of practice. This commons is not fenced off, but remains accessible, with its margins open to new information, perspectives, disagreements and interpretations.

Investigative Aesthetics

Investigative Commons are formed through aesthetic practices. Though aesthetic sensibilities and the work of imagination may seem anathema to the "cold" protocols by which evidentiary material is verified and analyzed, investigative work is entangled with aesthetics in multiple ways.

In this sense, aesthetics is the means of socializing the presentation of evidence - a way of finding new and alternative venues in which political claims can be articulated, performed, seen, and heard. We use the term “aesthetics” to refer to the “sensing” of the world (from the ancient Greek *aisthesis*), but this sensing also extends beyond human perception to the realm of animals, plants, material surfaces and technological devices. The aesthetic field includes a vast array of signals, embedded in the most unlikely of places, which can potentially be deciphered.

Investigative aesthetics brings together the “sensing” of a wide range of sources – chemical traces registered by the leaves of plants, or the cracks and fissures in building materials in the wake of a blast, for example – and assembles them into a larger, multi-perspectival picture that can be used as evidence in a variety of forums.

Critical Introspection

The Investigative Commons develops and tests new technologies, for the next generation of investigative practices. We combine situated knowledge and lived experience with repurposed contemporary technologies that may include open-source investigations, machine learning and immersive VR and AR, as well as reconstructions within simulated architectural environments or repurposed game engines.

The exponential proliferation of online media has created new possibilities for participatory fact-finding and verification. The field of open-source investigation, which began as a narrow area of internet-based research has since expanded to include new forms of intelligence and technologies that have revolutionized investigative practices.

In deploying and repurposing technologies in innovative ways, our investigations have a double aim. They are both investigations of events in the world, and inquiries into the technologies we use to investigate them. Careful, critical employment of technologies can offer an opportunity for introspection into the biases ingrained within them.

Just as every use of satellite photography must acknowledge the technology’s military history and "resolution biases", a critical employment of machine learning should similarly seek to explore and shed light on the computational processes at its heart, which otherwise remain opaque and unaccountable. The necessity for critical interrogation of sensing is made abundantly clear in a world full of sophisticated gadgets and “sensors” which are programmed to surveille, eavesdrop, register, record and respond to human behavior, movement, preferences as well as to changing conditions within environments.

Socializing Evidence

The counter-forensic work of the Investigative Commons not only takes advantage of a multiplicity of sources; it also lends itself to being presented in a range of alternative venues, beyond the courtroom.

Unlike in courts, in gallery and museum exhibitions, citizen assemblies, and in some of the media forums, the social, political and historical significance of the cases investigated could be unpacked.

While enganged in producing evidence, the Investigative Commons is simultaneously committed to critically interrogating media technologies, politics and aesthetics and their associated truth regimes. Events, exhibitions, lectures and seminars, in collaboration with cultural institutions, will ask what constitutes evidence, and how and why certain kinds of data are afforded legitimacy and authority, while others are discredited or relegated to obscurity.

Programme

Investigating Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine

09.02.2023

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) Berlin and ONLINE

Event

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led to an unprecedented array of accountability initiatives for the crimes committed in this ongoing war of aggression. Both state institutions and civil society across the world have taken action to investigate and examine atrocities in Ukraine.

To learn more about how human rights organizations have approached the fight for justice, together with our guests, we want to explore existing efforts in addressing these crimes and discuss the challenges and differences compared to international crimes committed elsewhere. In this context, we particularly focus our discussion on how to combine the complementary aspects of open source investigation and strategic case building to increase the impact of civil society collaborations and interventions.

Вторгнення Росії в Україну у лютому 2022 року призвело до появи безпрецедентної кількості ініціатив, спрямованих на забезпечення притягнення до відповідальності за злочини, скоєні під час цієї триваючої агресивної війни. Як державні установи, так і громадянське суспільство у всьому світі вживають заходів задля проведення розслідування і дослідження звірських злочинів в Україні.

Щоб дізнатися більше про те, як правозахисні організації реалізують заходи з боротьби за правосуддя, разом із нашими гостями ми хочемо дослідити існуючі зусилля, спрямовані на реагування на ці злочини, та обговорити виклики і труднощі, у порівнянні з міжнародними злочинами, скоєними в інших місцях. У цьому контексті в ході цього обговорення ми зосереджуємо особливу увагу на тому, як поєднувати взаємодоповнюючі аспекти розслідувань на основі даних із відкритих джерел та стратегічної підготовки справ, щоб посилити вплив співпраці громадянського суспільства та їхніх ініціатив.

Past

Three Doors

05.11.2022 – 30.12.2022

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) Berlin

Exhibition
Simulation of audibility in the neighborhood of shots fired at the perpetrator house.
© Forensic Architecture and Forensis

It is nearly three years since nine people were murdered in a racist terror attack in Hanau. It is nearly eighteen years since Oury Jalloh was burnt to death in a police cell in Dessau. The victims’ families, friends and the survivors are still struggling for accountability.

Separating and connecting different domains – state, public and private – doors are physical objects but also social contracts. The exhibition presents three investigations, each concerned with a door, unraveling different aspects of racist violence in Germany: In Hanau, it is the locked emergency exit door of the Arena Bar and the front door of the perpetrator’s house through which the police failed to pursue him. In Dessau, it is the door of the police cell in which Oury burnt to death. Closed when they needed to be broken through, open when they needed to be shut and locked when they needed to be unlocked, these doors embody a failure of the social order; to understand how, these investigations reconstruct the larger context around them, illuminating long-lasting and troubling relationships between racist perpetrators and state agencies in Germany.

Since its first presentation at the Frankfurter Kunstverein, Three Doors has directly influenced the ongoing responses to the Hanau terror attack in politics, society and the media. Now, the exhibition, along with guided tours and a public program, draws upon the experiences of relatives, survivors and supporters to give visibility to their continuing struggle – and to shed light on deeply entrenched racist structures within Germany – just a stone’s throw from the German federal parliament.

The exhibition Three Doors by Forensic Architecture/Forensis, Initiative 19. Februar Hanau and Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh was co-produced with Frankfurter Kunstverein.

Guided exhibition tour through Three Doors

20.11.2022 – 18.12.2022

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) Berlin

Event
Three Doors, Ausstellungsansicht, © HKW / Miguel Brusch

With Initiative 19. Februar Hanau, Forensic Architecture, family members, survivors

Meeting point: box office
Free admission, with registration

Language: In German
Registration via Threedoors@hkw.de

  • Sun, Nov 20, 2022 at 3pm
  • Sun, Nov 27, 2022 at 3pm
  • Sun, Dec 11, 2022 at 3pm
  • Sun, Dec 18, 2022 at 3pm

The German Colonial Genocide in Namibia

05.11.2022

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) Berlin

Event
FA/Forensis/OGF, 2022. Archival image courtesy of Koloniales Bildarchiv, Universitätsbilbiothek Frankfurt/Main, A-0ii-6966.

Between 1904 and 1908, German imperial forces perpetrated the first genocide of the 20th century in then German South-West Africa, involving the targeted ‘extermination’ of large numbers of Ovaherero, Ovambanderu and Nama people and the killing of many others. The conference presents the initial stage of ongoing collaborative research and discusses the effects of these colonial crimes.

Three Doors

03.06.2022 - 11.09.2022

Frankfurter Kunstverein (FKV) Frankfurt

Exhibition
Forensic Architecture/Forensis, Ausstellungsansicht Frankfurter Kunstverein 2022 mit der Untersuchung “Rassistischer Terroranschlag in Hanau: Das Haus des Täters” und die Zeittafel “Vorfälle und Ungewissheit, Photo: Norbert Miguletz, ©Frankfurter Kunstverein

Under the title Three Doors – Forensic Architecture/Forensis, Initiative 19. Februar Hanau, Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh, the Frankfurter Kunstverein has invited the research agencies Forensic Architecture and Forensis to jointly develop an exhibition from 2 June to 11 September 2022, in which three new works by Forensic Architecture and Forensis are presented. Their visual investigations into the 19 February 2020 racist terrorist attack in Hanau are the main focus of the show. A new plausibility study on the case of Oury Jalloh, who burned to death in a police cell in Dessau in 2005, is also being presented. In addition, the exhibition highlights ongoing investigations, such as those into the NSU murders and international human rights violations, in order to illustrate a spectrum of forensic and imaging science methodologies.

The exhibition arose as a collaboration between various parties: the research agency Forensic Architecture, its affiliated agency Forensis Berlin, Initiative 19. Februar Hanau, Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh, journalists and documentarists, and the cultural institution Frankfurter Kunstverein. They work as a coalition of civil society forces and experts in various fields.

Bringing Greek pushbacks to justice

02.02.2022

ONLINE

Event
Push-backs Across the Evros/Meriç: Film still of the analysis of Parvin’s case © Forensic Architecture

Severely beaten, secretly detained and forcibly returned from Greece six times, Parvin A filed a complaint at the UN Human Rights Committee for multiple violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in February 2022. Her case exposes the systematic Greek practice of pushbacks owing to digital evidence she was able to preserve from inside detention and at the border which was analyzed as part of a Forensic Architecture investigation

Socializing Evidence

09.10.2021

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) Berlin

Event
Still from Safari Prop V3 by Decolonize This Place

The rise of counterfactual politics on- and off-line, presents societies with a dilemma. One option is to buttress the institutional basis of factual authority by supporting the existing judiciary, media, universities and cultural venues. Another approach, presented here, is more risky: to seize the contemporary moment of institutional crisis as an opportunity for a radical transformation of the way facts are produced and disseminated. This approach responds to the current skepticism towards institutional pronouncements with a vital form of collective truth-production; one that is both diffused and diverse, based on establishing an expanded community of practice that incorporates aesthetic and scientific sensibilities. Organized by one such community of practice, the Investigative Commons, this event brings together investigators, lawyers, activists, artists, architects and academics. They will discuss the ways in which new investigative practices have the potential to challenge different forums for the presentations of facts and articulation of claims: the mainstream media brought into crisis by the growth of ‘open source’ and 'citizen’ journalism; museums, which have been turned into sites of political contestation; and the courts where new kind of evidence, citizen-produced and crowd-verified, challenges traditional legal process.

European Arms in the Bombing of Yemen

22.06.2021

ONLINE

Event
Yemen Platform – Airstrike Filters

In December 2019, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), Mwatana and their European partner organisations called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the criminal responsibilities of corporate and government executives of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. In a 350-page communication submitted to the ICC, the organisations argued that by issuing export authorisations and exporting arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, these European actors may be contributing to serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen, including war crimes.

The platform, developed by the ECCHR, Forensic Architecture, FORENSIS, Bellingcat, and Yemeni Archive, the first project of the new Investigative Commons community of practice, exposes the patterns of indiscriminate attacks by the coalition against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen. The platform demonstrates for the first time the direct impact of European arms exports on the continuous targeting of civilians and civilian spaces on the ground. It does so by exposing the relationships between documented airstrikes, found remnants of European weapons, and a timeline of arms exports from European countries to the coalition.

Investigative Commons

09.06.2021 – 08.08.2021

Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) Berlin

Exhibition
Forensic Architecture, Investigative Commons, Exhibition view, © Miguel Brusch/HKW

This exhibition showcases a new model for collaborative truth-production and investigative aesthetics, bringing together open source investigation, “counter-forensics” and strategic human rights litigation, Combining the knowledge of survivors of violence and dispossession with methods from journalism, law, activism and arts, it presents casework that confronts urgent contemporary issues: racist policing and border regimes, cyber-surveillance, environmental violence, the ongoing violence of colonialism and the complicity of institutions in them..

The exhibition and accompanying program mark the launch of Investigative Commons, an interdisciplinary practice initiated by Forensic Architecture, FORENSIS and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), which includes amongst others Laura Poitras/Praxis Films, Bellingcat, Mnemonic and HKW. Further, they introduce FORENSIS, a new Berlin-based association founded by Forensic Architecture, and named after its inaugural exhibition at HKW in 2014.

Coming Soon