The Body of the Crime
TAKE on art|January - June 2017

How can critical spatial practice today make invisible crimes visible? Let me be clear by giving an explicit environmental meaning to this singular question. The invisible or the less visible crimes of environmental violence are those committed against nature and subaltern social groups for the accumulation of capital. In the conflict between the economy and the environment the cost of capitalism is an increasing output of toxic waste. The fact that nature is still cheap is not a sign of abundance but “a result of a given distribution of property rights, power and income”1. The evil twin of the territorial scale displacement of people is the massive displacement of pollution to other nations. As animals mark their territories with stinking urine, humans claim territory by polluting the earth.2 Human species have come to appropriate the earth through pollution.

 
Nabil Ahmed

Historically, in the cases of criminal poisoning, the most decisive element of expert medico-legal knowledge was chemical evidence. This, more than any other method, enabled the toxicologist, to claim with a high degree of probability that a poisoning took place. The ability to provide chemical proof in a case of criminal poisoning was a crucial feature of the toxicologist’s suite of expertise because it thwarted the design of one unique feature of the criminal act, that of concealing the instrument of violence as is insidiously common. Most of all, the power of chemical proof lay in its capacity to ‘demonstrate’ to a legal audience via extracting and demonstrating poison from the body of the victim. The maneuvers of toxicologists to bring poison from ‘invisible’ to ‘visible’ in the body of the victim allowed the law to judge — with enough circumstantial evidence at hand — the accused as guilty or not guilty. Aesthetics was translated into, and transferred over to the conditions for a judgment to emerge.

 

In forensic presentations of evidence, making the trace of a crime visible is not mere information but is a matter of persuasion. As a presentation to the senses, it is persuasive of judgment. In Western jurisprudence the corpus delicti (the body of the crime) refers to the principle that a crime must be proven to have occurred before a person can be convicted of committing that crime. Invoked in murder investigations, the best evidence for establishing crime is the body of the deceased and the cause of death. In this sense, the term also describes the evidence that proves that a crime has been committed.

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