Forensics of Imagination

An artistic research practice

What is it to understand one’s own unknowns, the limitations and potentialities of knowledge? In the practice of an artistic field such as cinema a lot remains tacit. I’m working to create a theoretical framework and a language in which to understand how my own practice is operationalised, how it exists and constitutes itself in a particular way, thinking through making through thinking.What is the relationship between incredible and un-credible? Who determines the veracity of information? What constitutes the integrity of the image, of a character, of the betrayal of a relationship between the spectator and the filmmaker and his protagonist? 

My background is in broadcast journalism which constitutes itself more as crafts than arts. In my experience the news industry in particular is self-righteously opinionated about truth and fact and claims dominion over ‘reality’. That doesn’t leave much space for exploring outlandish ideas by someone like Jacques Ranciere: “A fiction is not the invention of an imaginary world. Instead it is the construction of a framework within which subjects, things, and situations can be perceived as coexisting in a common world and events can be identified and linked in a way that makes sense. Fiction is at work whenever a sense of reality must be produced.” (from Modern Times, 2017)

To me becoming critically aware of that construction of fiction holds an emancipatory potential. In this sense imagination is a form of protest.

Forensics of Imagination

I call my theoretical framework Forensics of Imagination. It’s an explorative practice, a research method for the understanding and interpretation of phenomena, encounters, and objects—and their probable and potential connections. It actively seeks to subvert master and dominant narratives by considering any trace a meaningful evidence of something. Forensics of Imagination aims to interrogate the production of meaning and truth.


In Danish there is no adequate translation for crime scene. Instead we have gerningssted (‘site of deed’) or åsted (‘on site’, referring to any site on which something has happened, is happening or will happen – ‘the site in question’). 

The å- is interestingly arcane and antiquated: originally spelled aa the only other word I know with this use of it is aasyn which translates to ‘face’ or ‘countenance’ (mostly used in the Bible) or ‘the act of looking’. 

The words aasted and aasyn share the notion that something important remains hidden from us. It’s a defamiliarising gaze, potentially an impossible one: the aasyn of the world, nature or god—that sees beyond the real. By evoking this awareness, the mundane may come to seem foreign and strange, its hidden imaginative content be awoken.

“Redistributing the narrative field by telling another version of a crucial myth is a major process in crafting new meanings. One version never replaces another, but the whole field is rearranged in interrelation among all the versions in tension with each other.”

— Donna Harraway

A crisis of imagination?

“Only stupid children are ever bored” was a popular response among parents and educators when I grew up, “use your imagination.” These adults meant to evoke our capacity to un-bore ourselves without interfering with the sanctity of grown-up time. In Danish no-one uses the term ‘imagination’, it’s either ‘fantasy’ or ‘resourcefulness’. Semantically both those terms lack the visual property of imagination: the image. (For the sake of argument, image here also means time- and sound-image.)

I believe mass media is teaching its audience to not see. Like one consequence of the influx of social media is putting media in place of the social; a consequence of the mightiness of commercial visual culture is putting images in place of imagination. It’s a perversion of sorts; “only kids without wi-fi are ever bored.” However, the magnitude of available content only poses part of the challenge; the one I’m getting at is the constitution of that content. 

In my own experience, critical journalism generally uses the image as an illustration when it can’t narrate it as ‘visual proof’ of a central allegation. In more commercial genres the audiovisual is made further subservient as a vessel for a message — or simply a distraction from the time you’re donating. The immediate objective for any broadcaster is to fill its slots and maintain a decent viewership. This renders the individual project less consequential. That means experimentation and ‘the new’ are often feigned for marketing purposes and broadcast’s ‘aired and forgotten’ antics.

Perhaps at least this last part will change with the surge of streaming and its long-tail logic. I hope it could mean a new attention to lasting qualities. On the other hand, the sheer amount of content being commissioned by the big players and marketed for the sake of dominion is discouraging. In a cinematic paradigm that cuts on the line of dialogue, the pause is a radical gesture. If the invisible time-space in the cut between shots has no room for alternate meanings, in a way there is no need for the audience. If the interpretation of an image is preconditioned out of fear that the audience will lose track, that image is robbed of its own agency.

In the words of video artist Omer Fast, the work itself must become a crime scene: “I like to think of viewers as detectives or puzzlers. The work is always incomplete prior to their arrival and they need to look at the evidence, establish a chronology, figure out motives, a logic, an interpretive theory for making sense of what’s happened. The crime scene is an appropriate metaphor, not least because of the artist’s inevitable mistakes and omissions, but also because of the deceptive nature of the medium as well as the gaps and distortions involved in any transmission. This leaves the artist with the primary responsibility of covering tracks and making sure the crime scene is perplexing enough to entice questions. One way or another, it has to be a bloody mess.” (from Present Continuous, 2015)

Again, I must infer the superiority of the notion of aasted over crime scene.

Deep Gaps

Deep Gaps is a project that places itself solidly in the domain of Forensics of Imagination. The story begins with the unsolved assassination of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1986. One main suspect, Victor Gunnarsson, was later murdered himself under mysterious circumstances. The man convicted was perhaps innocent. The complex is comprehensive and convoluted. It spans three decades, at least two continents and a large cast. Seen from the perspective of a journalist or anyone interested in great stories it’s a treasure trove. I’m not immune to that. But there are other reasons that mean more to me.

A collection of conspicuous coincidences, reflections, mirages emerge. They don’t necessarily hold a concrete significance seen from a police investigation point of view but speak to me nonetheless: 

  • Two main suspects look alike. Victor Gunnarsson was released; the other one, Krister Pettersson, was convicted and later acquitted. Were they confused in the dead of night?
  • On the night of the murder Palme went to the movies watching the Swedish comedy ‘The Mozart Brothers’ set on the production of the opera Don Giovanni in which a masked Don Giovanni kills Il Commendatore. Victor Gunnarsson was known as a Don Juan. He was a right-wing extremist who loved America and hated Prime Minister Palme for his ties with the Soviet leadership. At the time of the murder Gunnarsson claimed to have been at the movies himself, watching Rocky IV in which the all-American boxing hero beats Soviet champion Ivan Drago portrayed by Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren. 
  • The newly appointed head of the Palme investigation is named Christer Pettersson, namesake of the prime suspect. 
  • Both Palme and Gunnarsson were murdered with two gunshots point blank. 

This sort of reflective oddities begin manifesting themselves in the ongoing research process itself:

  • A chance encounter; next to a meeting with our producers in Copenhagen we find the Stockholm-based author Stefan Lindberg having lunch by himself. He recently wrote a novel about Gunnarsson. He’s thrilled to learn about our project.
  • Lindberg himself has just had a chance encounter with a young man who looks like Gunnarsson, speaks in the same dialect, and just happens to be an actor.
  • In the Swedish police files we find Gunnarsson claiming an alibi, a female friend he calls Santa Cruz.
  • Later, at the airport in 0℃, the only man not wearing a thick coat walks towards us in just a t-shirt with a large print spelling Santa Cruz. Other encounters aside from the project begin occurring (see Ephemeral Evidence)

Forensics of Imagination in this context holds both the formal, legal and procedural meaning of forensics in which objective traces can be assessed—and pursued by imagination—and a specifically subjective mode in which imagery—traces of imagination—can be pursued forensically.

Deep Gaps (working title)

Drama documentary series in development.

Creators: Peter Hammer & Søs Hoffman.

Producers: Dorthe Riis Lauridsen & Anders Toft Andersen.

Executive producer: Piv Bernth.

Production company: Apple Tree Productions