International Necronautical Society INS Inspectorate Berlin

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INS Inspectorate Berlin: Aerial Reconnaissance
air photography by Anthony Auerbach, 2005

Five aerial photographic surveys for the International Necronautical Society Inspectorate, Berlin, 1076 photographs, 5 mosaics

Anthony Auerbach writes:

The survey techniques I developed in the works Planet and Enemy Contact Surface seemed to lend themselves to the task assigned by the INS Inspectorate Berlin. The 'mission' was to recover data which would inform and develop the INS's reading of the city, following the INS central interests: marking and erasure; transit, circulation and control; cryptography and death.

Aerial photographic surveys are used in military reconnaissance and other specialist fields such as cartography, geology and archaeology. Each specialist field of knowledge has developed its own modes and techniques of interpretation, because, although ordered, the survey data are almost as stubborn and resistant as the material surfaces they record. The survey makes the surface yield to inspection and calls for its interpretation, that is, the decipherment of the marks and traces visible on the surface.

Berlin — 'World Capital of Death', as the INS identified it — must also be the world capital of erasure. If the fabric of the city is nothing other than the erasure of the traces of death, then the identification and selection of sites for detailed surveillance would be the first problem for the INS Inspectorate. The objective of the selection procedure was to discover sites where the phenomena of erasure are intensified. Among the city's most ruthless methods of erasure is the erection of memorials. A memorial is an attempt to authenticate a forgotten past. A memorial authorises forgetting and encodes erasure. The presence of monumental architecture, memorial plaques and the like, therefore helped to identify the target sites as specified: 'locations where no trace can be found of incidents or persons of interest to the INS; where there is evidence of attempts to cover or erase the traces of incidents or persons; where there is evidence of attempts to conceal the erasure.'

In May 2005, I carried out five aerial surveys and assembled them at the INS Inspectorate's temporary headquarters in Berlin. Each survey recorded the material surface of the site and the marks and inscriptions it bears, providing a vast amount, indeed, an abyss of information. Although assembled in systematic way, following the lines of the survey itself, the photographic reconnaissance does not resolve into to a picture with clear epistemological boundaries. Each photograph in the mosaic moreover provides a abundance of detail suggesting that one ought to be able to account, for example in the observation of the 'Prince Albrecht Terrain', for each grain of sand visible. In cases such as Bebel Platz and Leipziger Strasse, transparent, reflective and multi-layered materials resulted in complications in the documents: introducing visible repetitions, making visible the recording process, producing images of the sky. Thus air photography produced images of air, the sky becoming the abyssal depth of a material surface, nonetheless marked. Thus the surveys were not only productive of information: the complications made visible by the performance of the technique (the craft as the INS would underline) are highly suggestive and likely to be important in developing key INS interpretations of the data.

In the context of the INS Inspectorate Berlin, it would not make sense to regard the surveys as art objects. The INS insists they are documents submitted in evidence. However it is essential to their function as INS documents that, like artworks, they are both seductive and resistant; that they are understood as material documents, both superficial and abysmal; that they are not necessarily written in code, but need to be deciphered. The 'craft' of the art critic or historian as inspector of surfaces, thus, may well prove to be useful in their interpretation.

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