UTS Gallery is home to Australia’s first solo exhibition of Forensic Architecture, a research agency which brings together artists, architects, lawyers and scientists to investigate human rights abuses, state violence and environmental crimes around the world.

Their investigations have been used as evidence by the United Nations to prosecute criminals.

The current exhibition ‘Cloud Studies’ is a video work exploring recent investigations by Forensic Architecture united by the idea of toxic clouds.

The video has eight different sections, each exploring different kinds of clouds – from chemical white phosphorus clouds to herbicides, as well as clouds of misinformation – all used in various ways to control and manipulate humans and environments.

Events like the Hong Kong protests, in which tear gas was used to disperse gatherings, is put into dialogue with how arson is used to eradicate Indonesian forests for industrial plantations.

(Photo: Natasha May)

The exhibition reveals the “porosity of borders between states and territories, or between each other,” according to Stella Rosa McDonald, curator at UTS Gallery.

“The poetry of Cloud Studies is about the connectedness of global atmospheres and how close we all are to each other,” she told Central News.

Ms McDonald alongside co-curator Eleanor Zeichner have been working on the exhibition for 18 months.

She found that as they worked on the exhibition during that period of time, “every day the work became more relevant to our present moment.”

“We know living through COVID-19 that the space between us is really porous and fragile,” she added.

While most of the investigations focus on Asian and Middle Eastern countries, part of the reason McDonald and Zeichner wanted to bring Forensic Architecture’s work to the UTS Gallery was because of its global resonance.

Their job as curators was then to “develop a context for the exhibition here and related it to Australian issues and experiences”.

(Photo: Natasha May)

Ms McDonald and Ms Zeichner commissioned Australian writers and artists to write their own responses to the issues raised in Cloud Studies, which have been collected in a publication available online and in hard copy for visitors to read as they wander around the exhibition space.

“We wanted to mirror what Forensic Architecture does as a collaborative agency and create our own group of thinkers and makers to respond thematically,” Ms McDonald explains.

Writers in the publications have explored issues like the Macarthur River Mine in the Northern Territory affecting the Indigenous community as well as the clouds created by the past summer’s bushfires.

Also in the reading room, Forensic Architecture’s Investigations are on display so their methodologies can be explored in greater depth, as well as a selection of books from the UTS Library.

McDonald hopes the exhibition will encourage students to further explore “the web of connections across theory and time” related to the exhibition.

“We see UTS Gallery as a site of provocation connected to learning,” she says. “It’s a place where students and staff, and the general public, can reflect upon what they’re learning and find new ways to learn, new ways to think about the world and be in the world.”

(Photo: Natasha May)

The opportunity to learn from the gallery has been afforded to students enrolled in the UTS Master of Architecture Design Studio ‘Cities Under Surveillance’.

Lecturer and PhD candidate Endriana Audisho took her students  to see ‘Cloud Studies’ as soon as university went back to campus, following the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Ms Audisho, who is herself using Forensic Architecture as a case study in her PhD about the intersection of media, architecture and conflict in the Middle East, says her students left the exhibition feeling inspired.

They “could see that Forensic Architecture is starting to expand the traditional boundary of what architect[ure] means and what architectural training can be used for.”

UTS Gallery is especially interested in contemporary art and design practice which works across disciplines. In this way McDonald hopes the exhibition space appeals to different sensibilities.

“Whether you’re approaching it as a media student, a student interested in visual art and curatorial practices, a legal professional or an architect, or you have just simply been affected by the issues that they look at in this work, there’s so many different ways to enter the scene of the exhibition.”

Forensic Architecture’s exhibitions not only share their research with the public but also support their investigations.

Fees paid by galleries to exhibit their work are used towards funding the organisation’s future research. Cloud Studies is on display at UTS Gallery until November 13 2020.

— Natasha May, @tasha_tilly