Susan Schuppli is an artist-researcher and writer. She is currently Director & Reader of the Centre for Research Architecture. Through investigative processes that involve an engagement with scientific and technical modes of inquiry, her work aims to open up new conceptual pathways into the material strata of our world.
While many projects have examined media artefacts—photographs, film, video, and audio transmissions—that have emerged out of sites of contemporary conflict and state violence, current work explores the ways in which toxic ecologies from nuclear accidents and oil spills to the dark snow of the arctic are producing an “extreme image” archive of material wrongs. Creative projects have been exhibited throughout Europe as well as in Canada, Asia and the US.
She has published widely within the context of media and politics and am author of the forthcoming book, Material Witness (MIT Press), which is also the subject of an experimental documentary.
She is an affiliate artist-researcher and Board Chair of Forensic Architecture. Previously she was Senior Research Fellow and Project Co-ordinator of Forensic Architecture. In 2016 she recieved the ICP Infinity Award for Research and Critical Writing.
- PhD Cultural Studies & Research Architecture (Goldsmiths, University of London) 2009
- Whitney Independent Study Program 1996
- MFA Media Arts (University of California San Diego) 1995
- BA Fine & Performing Arts (Simon Fraser University) 1991
Prior to teaching at Goldsmiths , Susan was based in Canada where she was Associate Professor in Visual Art at Western University, Assistant Professor at the University of Lethbridge and an Instructor at Emily Carr.
Area of supervision
Susan welcomes research proposals that situate themselves at the intersections between space, politics, aesthetics, and media. She supervises dissertations that are rigorously theoretical yet pursue their research inquires through practical engagements with materials, sites and processes. Whether these are creative projects or emerge out of ethnographic fieldwork they are understood to be the means by which research is pursued and ideas tested.
Of particular interest are projects that examine architectures of media in recognition of the increasing significance that media plays in our access to and analysis of spaces of political conflict. From the micro-scale of buildings and infrastructure to the macro-scale of borders and global flows, space is understood as an elastic medium constantly reshaped by political and mediatic forces.
Cold Case Files
Cold case files are popularly understood as police investigations that have gone dormant when all investigative leads have run cold. Opening up a cold case file usually requires the appearance of new evidence or the advent of a new technological procedure that could shed a different light on things.
With respect to global warming within cold climates, the appearance of new forms of evidence is actually a consequence of the slow disappearance of matter—the retreating of glaciers, the melting of sea ice, the reducing of surface albedo, the dissolving of snow. For too long now, the cold case files of global warming in the less-populated regions of the world such as the far North have gone unattended to. Following the injunction of Rob Nixon’s thesis of “slow violence” the challenge remains to work on all fronts, on all cases from hot to cold.
From those which emerge seemingly out of the heat of the political moment to the slow burn of those that take decades and even centuries to go critical. Most importantly it is to take literally the concept of “global warming” not merely as a thermostatic condition but to reclaim it as a political demand, that is to say, to investigate the ways in which hot and cold cases meet and are even at times mutually constitutive, how, in effect, they “warm up” to each other so that the distant and remote are folded into the proximate and urgent.
Debates are currently taking place amongst scientists as to whether we have entered a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – to reflect humanity’s considerable impact upon earth, the outcome of which would formally bring an end to the current period of the Holocene. However, theorising these transformations purely in terms of their radical geological reorganisation, neglects their fundamental visual dynamics. Anthropogenic matter is relentlessly aesthetic in throwing disturbing images back at us: dirty pictures of dramatically warped landscapes and polluted atmospheres that both intoxicate and repulse.
The term has itself migrated rapidly from the physical sciences into the arts and humanities to designate a condition whereby it is impossible to disarticulate nature from culture. It is within this expanded disciplinary context (with its theoretical adaptations of the anthropocene) that its particular relevance to this research initiative is situated. The research forwards the proposition that we have, by extension, also entered a new geo-photo-graphic era in which polluted environments have been transformed into vast photosensitive arrays that are registering and recording the transformations brought about by modern industrialisation and its contaminating processes.
From the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the radioactive fallout at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, to the photochemical smog that enshrouds cities around the globe and the dark snow of the Arctic, a comprehensive image-archive of material wrongs has emerged. It’s investigations, drawn from these aforementioned research areas – irradiated zones, oil spills, dark snow, and smog scapes – offer paradigmatic case studies for exploring the agency of toxic materiality as a form of extreme imagery because of the unique manner in which industrial practices and environmental systems combine to produce photographic-like events that share many of the same optical properties and chemical processes identified with its lens-based technological predecessors.
This research 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 or as an expression of direct action, history and by extension politics is registered at these junctures of ontological intensity. Moreover, in disclosing these encoded events, the material witness makes ‘evident’ the very conditions and practices that convert such eventful materials into matters of evidence.
Through the series of case studies I chart the appearance of a material witness that arises first out of the physical substances of filmic emulsion, magnetic particles, photo-chemistry, metal and dust and then later out of the immaterial realms of bandwidth and code. I track these entities in order to explore the ways in which matter archives and refracts the complex histories of violence in which it is implicated and, by extension, examine the condition of informed materiality that discloses its processing, renders visible the systems in which it is embedded, and activates its political potential.
The crucial role that forensics plays in this research is not that of an investigative technical probe directed towards uncovering the ‘true’ reality-traces and absolute histories encoded by matter as might be the case with the practices of forensic science. Rather its role is that of highlighting what new understandings are required of matter and the processes whereby matter comes to matter discursively, in order for the material witness to overcome its purely legal designation or metaphoric expression and function as an operative concept in its own right: material as witness.
Schuppli, Susan. 2018. Should Videos of Trees have Standing? An Inquiry into the Legal Rites of Unnatural Objects at the ICTY. In: Danielle Celermajer and Richard Sherwin, eds. A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781474212854
Schuppli, Susan. 2017. Computing the Law / Searching for Justice. In: Boris Buden,; Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh, eds. Former West Art and the Contemporary after 1989. MIT Press: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262533836
Schuppli, Susan. 2015. “Slick Images: The Photogenic Surface of Disaster.”. In: , ed. Extra City. Antwerp: Extra City.
Schuppli, Susan. 2015. “War Dialling: Image Transmissions from Saigon.”. In: , ed. Mythologizing the Vietnam War: Visual Culture and Mediated Memory. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 144-158. ISBN 978-1443854429
Schuppli, Susan. 2014. “Can the Sun Lie”, “Entering Evidence”, “Uneasy Listening”. In: , ed. Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth. Berlin: Sternberg Press. ISBN 978-3956790119
Schuppli, Susan. 2014. Forensics / Tape 342. In: Malzacher Florian, ed. Truth is Concrete: A Handbook for Artistic Strategies in Real Politics Ed. Florian Malzacher. Berlin: Sternberg Press, pp. 221-223. ISBN 978-3943365849
Schuppli, Susan. 2013. “Public Service Announcements: Art for the Coming Community.”. In: , ed. Service Media. Chicago: Green Lantern Press, pp. 115-122. ISBN 978-1450742160
Schuppli, Susan. 2010. The Most Dangerous Film in the World. In: Frederik Le Roy; Nele Wynants and Dominiek Hoens Vanderbeeken, eds. Tickle Your Catastrophe. Ghent: Ghent University, the KASK (Ghent Royal Academy of Fine Arts) and Vooruit, pp. 130-145. ISBN 978-9038217222
Schuppli, Susan; Weizman, Eyal and Tavares, Paulo. 2010. Forensic Architecture. In: Adrian Lahoud and Charles Rice, eds. Post-Traumatic Urbanism: Architectural Design. John Wiley & Sons, pp. 58-63. ISBN 978-0470744987
Schuppli, Susan. 2014. “Deadly Algorithms: Can Legal Codes hold Software accountable for Code that Kills?”. Radical Philosophy(187), pp. 2-8. ISSN 0300-211X
Schuppli, Susan. 2013. “Probative Pictures: Image Proofs in Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure.”. CV93(91), pp. 20-28.
Schuppli, Susan. 2013. “Walk-Back Technology: Dusting for Fingerprints and Tracking Digital Footprints.”. Photographies, 6(1), pp. 159-167. ISSN 1754-0763
Schuppli, Susan. 2012. Material Malfeasance: Trace Evidence of Violence in Three Image-Acts. Photoworks, 17, pp. 28-33.
Schuppli, Susan. 2012. A memorial in exile in London’s Olympics: orbits of responsibility. Open Democracy,
Schuppli, Susan. 2010. “Improvised Explosive Designs: The Film-Set as Military Set-Up.”. Borderlands, 9(2), pp. 1-18.
Schuppli, Susan. 2008. Curse of the Mummy: Oral Affliction or Archival Aphasia. Memory Studies, 2(2), pp. 167-186. ISSN 1750-6980
Schuppli, Susan. 2004. “Picturing Place: Photography and the Geographical Imagination (Book Review).”. The Canadian Geographer, 48(4), pp. 505-506.
Carpenter, Ele; Mabb, David; Crowe, Nick; Craighead, Alison; Schuppli, Susan and Weir, Andy. 2016. Perpetual Uncertainty, exhibition. In: "Perpetual Uncertainty", Bildmuseet, Sweden, 2 October 2016 - 26 August 2018.
Carpenter, Ele; Mabb, David; Craighead, Alison; Crowe, Nick; Schuppli, Susan; Takeuchi, Kota and Kobayashi, Erika. 2016. Material Nuclear Culture, Exhibition. In: "Material Nuclear Culture", KARST Gallery, United Kingdom, 17 June - 13 August 2016.
Conference or Workshop Item
Schuppli, Susan. 2018. 'Shapes of Decay: A Discussion about Art and Ecology'. In: Shapes of Decay: A Discussion about Art and Ecology. Tate Modern, United Kingdom 24 APRIL 2018.