Susan Schuppli Documentary Films
Material Witness is an experimental documentary that investigates the question of political violence by asking how we might access grave events when evidence of their histories slowly disappears into the past or is forcefully repressed. It explores this condition through an analysis of two massacre videos produced during the final days of ethnic conflict: one shot in Izbica Kosovo in 1999 and the other, an anonymous execution video captured by mobile phone in northern Sri Lanka sometime in 2009. In the case of the conflict in the Balkans, the camcorder tape was entered into legal proceedings against Slobodan Milošević where it functioned to provide crucial evidence of war crimes. With respect to the Sri Lankan context, the mobile phone footage video, which surfaced in the UK, has only circulated within the courts of public opinion. Despite two UN technical enquiries, the Sri Lankan state continues to dispute the authenticity of the video and the heinous crimes depicted have therefore gone unpunished, as indeed have most others. Material Witness explores the various contexts in which these two videos eventually appeared and were made to “speak” as technical witnesses to a crime. Its does so by probing the ways in which non-human entities—media materials—register trace effects of the violence out of which they emerged as well as the ways in which they disclose the partisan practices and institutional protocols that enable their histories to be rendered intelligible and thus to become legally consequential.
“Can the sun lie?” asked a US court in 1886 when reflecting upon the probative value of new forms of technical evidence, specifically photographs and film. This now historic question was conceptually reanimated when indigenous people in the Canadian north made the public claim that the Arctic sun is setting many kilometres further west—an assertion since corroborated by scientists studying the changing optics of polar ice due to thermal inversions and global warming. The video sets out to explore the emergence of a new visual regime brought about by climate change as well as the dispute between lay knowledge and scientific expertise that subsequently arose at COP15 with regards to this solar dispute.
The Trace Evidence video trilogy explores the geological, meteorological, and hydrological appearance of nuclear evidence secreted within the molecular arrangement of matter. Its focuses upon three events: the unearthing of ancient nuclear reactors at the uranium mine site in Oklo, Gabon in 1972, the discovery of Chernobyl’s airborne contaminates at the Forsmark power plant in Sweden in April 1986 and the 7,600 kilometre five year journey of Caesium-137 from Fukushima-Daiichi through the waters of the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Within environmental justice work, establishing the incontrovertible relationship between cause and effect has proven a difficult legal challenge. The spatial dispersal of contaminates and temporal latency of their material and biological effects, which may take years, even decades to emerge, has allowed global climate-change actors and states to operate with virtual impunity. But the nuclear isn’t like other complex, non-linear events. Despite its radical and covert nature, the unique signature and behaviour of radioactive isotopes allows its lethal traces to be tracked directly back to their source, re-connecting the evidential links that planetary phenomena has seemingly torn apart