Forensic Architecture and Borderland win European Cultural Foundation’s Award for Culture

Tenth annual ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture celebrates courageous citizens using culture as a force for positive change.

Princess Margriet Awards
Laureates Forensic Architecture Director Eyal Weizman and Deputy Director Christina Varvia

Last night, at an award ceremony in Amsterdam, the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) awarded its annual Princess Margriet Award for Culture to the pioneering UK-based research agency, Forensic Architecture, and Polish cultural platform and foundation, Borderland.

Forensic Architecture and Borderland were presented with the prestigious award by Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of the Netherlands at a ceremony at the Stadsschouwburg in Amsterdam, before a large international audience on Wednesday 16th May 2018.

Marking its tenth anniversary in 2018, this year’s ECF Princess Margriet Award for Culture celebrates courageous citizens and organisations that are making a difference through culture, including artists and thinkers who are contributing to a more open and democratic Europe.

Chosen by an independent jury of experts for their outstanding work, Forensic Architecture and Borderland each use art as a way of exposing injustice in communities, and to recover and rethink the past in order to change the world.

HRH Princess Laurentien, President of the European Cultural Foundation, commented: “Like their predecessors, the laureates we celebrate today, Forensic Architecture and Borderland, have shown their courage and commitment through culture. Borderland in their tireless work, unearthing memories in communities torn by conflict, Forensic Architecture in their continuous search to recreate sites of injustice through material evidence and the architecture of memory. They ‘read backwards’ as Eyal Weizman of Forensic Architecture puts it, to create “an archeology of the recent past.” In their work, both laureates face the complexity of reality and by doing so, they create a way forward, open up new futures.”

Katherine Watson, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, said: “Over the past 10 years, the Award has been presented to a wide array of laureates, from all corners of Europe and representing all artistic disciplines. One thing connects them all, from Stuart Hall in 2008 to Borderland and Forensic Architecture today: they have had the courage to persevere and the determination to make a difference through their work.”

Forensic Architecture is a ground-breaking multidisciplinary research group based at Goldsmiths, University of London, made up of a team of international architects, artists, film-makers, scientists, political theorists, students and citizens. Forensic Architecture draws on architectural knowledge and new technological and aesthetic methodologies to meticulously reconstruct sites of conflict, trauma, oppression and injustice. Its carefully constructed investigations have provided decisive evidence in a number of legal cases, including in national and international courts as well as in citizen tribunals and human rights processes, leading to military, parliamentary, and UN inquiries. Alongside their presentation in such political and judicial forums, Forensic Architecture’s investigations have also been shown in cultural and artistic venues as examples of the use of creative practice in an image- and data-laden environment.

Forensic Architecture’s recent and ongoing landmark projects include: constructing an interactive 3D model of  the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London, an ongoing project using crowdsourced video footage and testimony as key pieces of evidence; a project with Amnesty International to reconstruct Saydnaya, a Syrian torture prison, and recreate what was happening inside using architectural and acoustic modelling based on the testimonies of survivors; and a counter-investigation into the testimony of German intelligence officer Andreas Temme in relation to the murder of Turkish-German café-owner, Halit Yozgat, by a far-right group in 2006.

Eyal Weizman, Forensic Architecture, commented in his acceptance speech: “We are living in an extremely mediatized and data-heavy environment that requires a new kind of forensic technique. What you need is to work in a multidisciplinary way, with filmmakers, scientists, lawyers, architects, structural engineers, perhaps fire engineers, et cetera and you need to build a case that mirrors the complexity of the environment in which crime happened.” During his speech, he went on to illustrate how their investigations are composed from “multiple perspectives of different people on the ground, often the people who are exposed to violence in the first place” forming a counter narrative to the single perspective of one all-knowing expert.”

Likewise honoured with the Princess Margriet Award for Culture, Borderland is both a foundation (NGO, founded in 1990) and a local centre for cultural encounters, creation and reflection (Centre Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations, founded in 1991).

Princess Margriet Awards
HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, President of the European Cultural Foundation delivered a speech at the awards

Borderland brings back to the community the artistic imagination of cultures that have disappeared – using a wide range of activities such as exhibitions and (youth) theatre. The foundation also has an internationally renowned Klezmer orchestra (a musical tradition of Ashkenazi Jews in Eastern Europe) and organises workshops and symposiums on cross-cultural dialogue for scholars and cultural practitioners from across the globe. Borderland’s activities bring living culture into dialogue with the region’s rich heritage, bridging different generations, languages, world views, professions and life experiences and contributing to a culture of solidarity for the future.

Krzysztof Czyżewski, Borderland added: “The Princess Margaret’s Award is for the Borderland what the golden fleece was for the Argonauts. On the one hand, it crowns our long and arduous journey, overcoming many obstacles and discovering many secrets through the crossing of cultural borders. On the other hand, it serves as a warning that the golden fleece can lose its sheen on its journey back when commitments are disregarded, gifts of hospitality remain unreturned and obligations are unkept.

“Our intention at Borderland is to put into practise our ‘Culture of Return’ ethos. This philosophy is a challenge to the modern world so often dominated by short-termism a ‘road to the top’ mentality. In contrast, the ‘Culture of Return’ is faithful to the bonds of neighbourhood, to the virtues of hospitality, and the love of the ‘other’. As a result, the Princess Margaret Award will allow us to demonstrate our commitment to returning gifts that have been bestowed on us by the community throughout the years of our presence on the Polish-Lithuanian borderland. We will use it to further develop our efforts to improve the life of the border community, share our knowledge and continue to build bridges with others through programs like the International Center for Dialogue in Krasnogruda and the Mobile Academy of New Agora.”

Princess Margriet Awards
Laureates Forensic Architecture and Borderland received the award from THR Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands

Forensic Architecture and Borderland each received a prize of EUR 25,000 and a unique Award, designed by Dutch artist Jan Rothuizen. Her Royal Highness Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, president of the European Cultural Foundation, held the opening speech at this year’s ceremony.

During its ten-year history, the Princess Margriet Award for Culture has named two previous laureates in the UK: cultural theorist and activist, Stuart Hill, and filmmaker John Akomfrah, whose films champion voices that are often hidden from the mainstream discourse of European past.