"On 7 and 8 January 2018 we chose two outstanding laureates. They come from very different parts of Europe and are informed by differing cultural approaches, yet in their work—in addition to their individual excellence—we recognise a shared desire to address the complexity of the past in order to uncover the contours of a more democratic future.
Though vastly different in their methodologies—one uses architectural, aesthetic and scientific technologies to probe crime sites, while the other draws upon the realms of theatre, literature, poetry and music to create spaces of exchange and togetherness—both help redefine the ways that we jointly see, understand and relate to the interconnected world in which we live.
Their art revolves around making sense of the social, political and cultural realities that frame our lives. Yet rather than taking this interconnectedness as a given, they furnish a broader conception of what it means, culturally and politically, to reconfigure the very possibility of a public sphere. Both laureates courageously equip citizens and communities with the power to act and speak together against forgetfulness, the power to reclaim the way in which very local, personal stories—always entangled within the cartography of our global condition—are told.
Forensic Architecture is a research agency based at Goldsmiths, at the University of London, and consisting of an international team of architects, artists, filmmakers, scientists, political theorists and ordinary citizens. Their multidisciplinary practice is unprecedented. They draw on architectural knowledge, but they do not build buildings. Instead, they use advanced imaging techniques to painstakingly rebuild sites where abuses of power have occured: sites of trauma, oppression and injustice. They do this by analysing and recombining an extensive matrix of media and memories. Like archaeologists, they excavate and assemble data that bear witness to the ways in which conflict transforms social, urban, and natural environments.
Thanks to their meticulous investigations, a coherent story emerges from a ceaseless current of media and virtual representations: all facts and facets are combined to create a more complete picture. Often gathered at the request of and together with affected communities and with entities from across society, Forensic Architecture’s findings have served as decisive evidence in a number of legal cases in national and international courts, in citizen tribunals and human rights trials, and have prompted military, parliamentary and United Nations inquiries. ‘Forensics’ stems from the Latin forensis: ‘pertaining to the forum’. True to these etymological roots, the group presents its investigations of cases in various judicial, political and legal forums. Forensic Architecture’s work has also appeared in cultural and artistic venues, redefining aesthetic practice as a way of intensifying the possibilities afforded by what is witnessed and who is witnessing. As such, the work courageously undertakes a ‘counter-forensics’ where communities, survivors and a broad base of civil society actors become part of a collective transformation, sparking an incandescent flare of hope in this ‘post-truth’ era, that ethical, narrative, cartographic and cultural expressions of truth—and resistance to its manipulation—are what matters.
Borderland is both an independent organization, founded in 1990, and a local centre for cultural encounters, creation and reflection: the Centre Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations, which was established a year later in 1991. Borderland—Pogranicze in Polish—is based in the Sejny- Suwałki border region of northeast Poland, a rural area far from the country’s big-city museums and tourist destinations. It is an area that has been formed by many ‘borderlanders’—people whose lives show traces of intersecting cultural pathways: Lithuanian, Polish, Jewish, Russian Old-believer, Belarusian, and Roma. An area whose heritage is rich in diversity. Yet repeated political efforts to homogenize this diversity—or to destroy it altogether— have only served to draw attention to ethnic divisions. This fabrication of forgetfulness has led to a troubled legacy of deportation, destruction and decay.
For nearly three decades the foundation has researched, revitalized and nutured a model of community-building informed by diverse cultural imaginings and by the art of working critically with memory. Using a wide range of artistic and cultural vocabularies, the foundation involves the entire community in co-creating exhibitions; in writing, translating, publishing and debating literature; in lively hands-on workshops and ongoing theatre and research projects with local young people. The foundation also has an internationally renowned and intergenerational Klezmer orchestra, bringing back to life the musical tradition of Ashkenazi Jews, and it organizes symposiums on cross-cultural dialogue for scholars and cultural practitioners from around the world. Borderland works over a long period of time to build invisible bridges that can span many generations, languages, world views, professions, life experiences and above all, art. These bridges are composed from a more complicated and accurate story, a collective memory, based on recollections of the past, in which there is room for the best and the worst, for atrocities and liberations, for anguish and joy. Connecting these multiple perspectives, between the past and the future, towards a tangible sense of a culture of solidarity for tomorrow. The Jury were moved by the fact that this is a region in north-east Poland that had a tangible heritage that was destroyed by the war and became an intangible heritage. And thanks to the courageous work of Borderland now the intangible once again ahs become tangible.
Across the fluxes of time, Borderland is an active model of dialogue in the organic process of personal and community development, a model that makes us acutely aware that the modern borderland is not only a distant geography straddling countries. Instead, it connects what national, social, economic and cultural borders are intended to separate. In cities just as much as in rural towns, the Borderland is the space in which different people live together across differences yet in proximity to each other. So rather than allowing borders to continue to divide communities, Borderland cultivates the imagination we need in order to navigate complex and changing paths through the borderlands that we all jointly inhabit. "