Beyond Documentation: Aesthetics of Policing was a workshop that critically examined policing and its representation, using an interdisciplinary and international framework. Hosted by the OSUN Center for Human Rights and the Arts (CHRA) at Bard College on February 3—4, 2023, the workshop brought together artists and scholars developing new research at the intersection of aesthetics and politics. Moving beyond customary notions of indexicality and documentation when approaching surveillance, testimony, and evidence, the workshop offered participatory and speculative modes for critically examining the aesthetic dimension of policing.
The interactive workshop sessions explored cataloging, photographic excess, found footage filmmaking, zine making, and performance as potential genres for examining police violence and rendering political struggle. As part of its experimental approach, the workshop sessions were annotated via illustrations by CHRA artist-in-residence Haitham Haddad.
This workshop was open to all students in CHRA and CCS (Center for Curatorial Studies) as well as invited faculty and graduate students from OSUN.
Lead support for this program was provided by the OSUN Center for Human Rights and the Arts at Bard College. Beyond Documentation: Aesthetics of Policing was organized by Adam HajYahia (CHRA ‘23) and May Makki (CCS ‘22).
The workshop included the following sessions:
Spectacle in Rehearsal, with Isshaq Albarbary
Spectators and actors are ubiquitous in contemporary culture: both as the traditional performances of theatre and cinema and as the “dangerous bodies” of aestheticized spectacles of policing. This session explored the aesthetic strategies and forms of policing via the weaponization of culture. Participants looked at historical and contemporary case studies with a focus on themes of silence, imitation, authenticity, and anonymity to examine how the repressive state apparatus produces material for cultural studies and the weaponization of the term culture to increase the surveillance and disciplinary power of the state.
Isshaq Albarbary is a Palestinian artist based in Amsterdam. He holds a Master of Fine Art and Design from HKU, Utrecht, and was a 2017-2018 fellow at BAK (basis voor actuele kunst). He is a member of Urban Front and was previously a coordinator at Campus in Camps Collective.
Civic Gaze, with Camila Palomino and Sean Vegezzi
Civic Gaze is a participatory, civilian-led research initiative that examines how New York City is shaped by infrastructures of policing. In this session, participants were introduced to a current investigation that deals with the recently released New York City Police Department surveillance films archive. This digitized collection of 16mm footage, captured by political monitoring units from 1960 to 1980, serves as a starting point for discussing the development of the NYPD’s surveillance practices from the early 20th century to the present. Participants then viewed materials from the archive and began to think collaboratively about creating a metadata framework to analyze them.
Camila Palomino is an independent curator and researcher from New York City. Her research is invested in aesthetic relationships between urban infrastructures, social memory, and imaging technologies. She is currently curatorial assistant at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
Sean Vegezzi is an artist and researcher who examines urban topographies and infrastructures through image-making, site-specific installation, sculpture, and writing. Vegezzi’s practice begins from lived experience and investigates civic life in relation to issues of autonomy, privacy, security, carcerality, and policing.
Suspended in Exclusions: Black Living in Excess of Legal Exclusion, with LaCharles Ward and Kwame Holmes
In this session, participants considered the relationship between blackness, visual culture, and law. The following questions were taken as the starting points: Why does visual evidence, when in defense of Black people, always fail to meet the proper evidentiary standards? What does it mean to think the concept of evidence outside of, at the limits, and in excess of law? How might we turn to the art and aesthetic practices produced by Black people to understand how they redefine evidence? This session considered the work of various Black scholars along with artists such as Carrie Mae Weems, Alexandra Bell, Languid Hands, M. NourbeSe Philip, Steve McQueen, and Titus Kaphar and Reginald Dwayne Betts.
LaCharles Ward is a cultural theorist whose research interest spans the areas of Black visual culture as theory and method, critical theories of Blackness, the history of ideas, photography (histories and theories) and the cultural study of law. He is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
Kwame Holmes is Scholar-in-Residence at the Bard College Human Rights Program. He has served as a faculty adviser to the Bard Prison Initiative and assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and is currently at work on his manuscript Queer Removal: Liberalism and Displacement in the Nation’s Capital, 1957–1999.
In addition, the workshop brought together a selection of catalogs and zines from the Interference Archive’s latest exhibition; and a public screening and discussion of Riotsville, USA.
Interference Archive is a collectively run, all-volunteer open stacks archival collection and study center located in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Exploring the relationship between social movements and cultural production, its collection includes books, prints, music, moving images, and cultural ephemera relating to DIY, punk and political art projects. The Archive organizes three to four exhibitions and approximately 80 free public events per year.
Riotsville, USA (2022), directed by Sierra Pettengill, uses archival footage shot by the news media and the government to explore the militarization of American policing and craft a counter narrative about a critical and turbulent moment in US history. In the late 1960s, in the face of widespread uprisings across the country, the U.S. government built model towns—called riotsvilles—on military bases, designed to train police to respond through choreographed reenactments. Following the screening, a discussion was moderated by Evan Calder Williams, associate professor at Bard’s Center for Curatorial Studies.