Media Forensis. An introduction

María Torres and Arjan Guerrero


Every forensic act today is an eminently political act.

"No event exposes the profound crisis of representation in Mexico with greater force and brutality than the forced disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa normal school on the terrible night of September 26, 2014" (our translation). Thus begins one of the stories that shape this blurred nation that is presented to us, in all its rawness, by the anthropologist Claudio Lomnitz (2016). The whole world turned to see in horror the effects of the lethal machinery deployed by the so-called “war against drug trafficking” in Mexico. Although the disappearance of the students has not been the deadliest event of this war (remember the enormous and well-known problem of the more than 27,000 “disappeared” people in Mexico), it did become “the nodal point of the most important social movement that has seen the light in the country” since it began in 2006 (Lomnitz, 2016). In fact, Lomnitz tells us, the events of September 26 constituted a turning point in Mexico's political and affective life: a crisis, he assures, even “deeper than the student revolts of 1968 or the Zapatista rebellion in 1994, and that has caused the cry for truth and justice to resound louder, more painful and more urgent than ever” (Lomnitz, 2016, p. 43). Who took away the 43 students? Why and where were they taken? What did they do with them? Are they alive or dead? There was not, nor is there yet, a clear answer to these questions. Their disappearance has thus been configured as an unfathomable abyss in which the political mediation between life and death, the disappeared body and its technical-material representations, are played out through the scientific-forensic matrix and the new media.

This turning point is also the starting point of the work of Media Forensis (MF) agency, which began in 2015 with an unfinished series of Spoken Portraits and a Medical-forensic reportof the viral image of one of the missing students, Mauricio Ortega Valerio. The agency takes up the term forensis (from the Latin forum and -ensis, ”to belong to the forum”), in order to investigate the semiotic-material bias of media, resorting to the forms of forensic sciences and creating fictions based on these research. The agency defines this speculative exercise in terms of “fiction-science” , inverting the logic of science-fiction—which, within its narratives, incubates completely fictitious applied sciences—not so much with the intention of producing an art capable of “confronting doubt”, as would correspond to the work of groups such as Forensic Architecture, but rather to put forward the notion of media and the mediation processes of forensic work as devices with a capacity of having agency—that is, bias—in the production of truth. These media take the form of an image, an interview or the very machine that registers, stores, processes and projects information. Beyond their object-evidence condition, these media resemble technical, social and biological mediation processes—even, to the notion of an environment (in Spanish medio ambiente)—which allow us to speak, among other things, of politics of representation from what could be considered a speculative realism.

Because alive they were taken, alive we want them! exclaims the characteristic slogan of the massive civil mobilization for the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students. However, most of the 43 viral portraits of those students are shown as irreparably injured images. It is there, in the dark areas of these wounds, where MF's forensic-fictional device is inserted, sometimes with ethically questionable crudeness, betting on pointing out the insensitivity with which the images in circulation are treated and perceived. In the midst of this representation crisis, MF's work contributes to the proliferation of political fictions oriented not so much towards the production of truth as to make evident the mediated (or mediatized) condition of events and of their “historical truth”.

Next text >