• Summer School as School 2018
Course 8: Spatial research: Rights, data, maps, by Laura Kurgan and Thomas Keenan

Course 8: Spatial research: Rights, data, maps
Course by Laura Kurgan and Thomas Keenan

July 29 – August 2, 2018

Course description

“Spatial research: Rights, data, maps” will examine contemporary research in conflict and human rights using empirical, visual and spatial data. How can claims about rights and their violation, justice and injustice, violence and exclusion, be made with maps and other visualisations? What kinds of stories can be told with numbers, names, images and coordinates? Why is a data-critical approach an essential part of any data visualisation or any digital map? How in particular do geo-referencing and geo-locating, clustering and aggregation, spikes and network analyses and other forms of spatial representation allow claims to be made and stories to be told?

Looking at a variety of projects and case studies from different research groups, including the Center for Spatial Research, Forensic Architecture and Bellingcat, we will examine the ways in which data is generated (intentionally and inadvertently); how it can be translated and represented; the relation between forensics, testimony and other forms of evidence; crowd-sourced and open-source investigations; repurposing state-generated information for critical projects; and how to ask large questions about political injustice by looking at small details and events.


Laura Kurgan teaches architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning at Columbia University, where she is Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) and the Director of Visual Studies. She is the author of Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics (Zone Books, 2013). Her work explores themes ranging from digital mapping technologies to the ethics and politics of mapping, and the art, science and visualisation of data. Her work has appeared at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Whitney Altria, MACBa Barcelona, the ZKM in Karlsruhe and the Museum of Modern Art. She was the winner of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship in 2009. Her recent research includes a multi-year SIDL project on "million-dollar blocks" and the urban costs of the American incarceration experiment and an exhibition on global migration and climate change, Native Land: Stop Eject, at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.

Her work has appeared at the Venice Architecture Biennale; the Whitney Altria; MACBa Barcelona; the ZKM in Karlsruhe; and the Museum of Modern Art (where it is part of the permanent collection). She has published articles and essays in Atlantic Magazine, Volume, Grey Room, Assemblage and Else/Where Mapping, among other books and journals.

Thomas Keenan
teaches media theory, literature, and human rights at Bard College, where he directs the “Human rights project”. He has served on the boards of a number of human rights organisations and journals, including Witness, Scholars at Risk, The Journal of Human Rights and Humanity. He is the author of Fables of Responsibility (1997) and co-wrote Mengele’s skull with Eyal Weizman (2012). He is co-editor, with Wendy Chun, of New media, old media (2006, 2nd ed. 2015); with Tirdad Zolghadr, of The Human snapshot (2013); and the Flood of rights, co-edited with Suhail Malik and Tirdad Zolghadr (2017). He curated Antiphotojournalism with Carles Guerra (2010-2011), and It is Obvious from the map, a project on mapping and migration, curated with Sohrab Mohebbi, exhibited at the Istanbul Design Biennial and at Redcat in Los Angeles and currently on view in Zagreb.