UCCA Beijing

“Meditations in an Emergency” Series: Survivor of the Purple Sea


Location:  Online
Language:  English

Established in 2010, Forensic Architecture is a multidisciplinary research agency based in Goldsmiths, University of London. The organization is led by Eyal Weizman, a British-Israeli architect, and the team includes other architects, software developers, filmmakers, investigative journalists, artists, scientists, and lawyers. The group’s mission is to uncover state and corporate violence, human rights violations, and environmental destruction across the world with the assistance of novel technologies, such 3D animation, cartography, and virtual reality. The group provides crucial evidence for international courts and works with a wide range of activist groups and NGOs. They employ a variety of evidentiary tools, such as new media, remote sensing, material analysis, witness testimony, and crowd-sourcing.

Recently, the group has been investigating the plight of migrants crossing the Turkey-Greece border. On 28 October 2015, a migrant boat left the coast of western Turkey heading to the closest European territory—the Greek island of Lesvos. The ship wrecked, resulting in the death of at least 43 people. This was the deadliest incident of that period, known as “the long summer of migration.” One of the survivors, the artist Amel Alzakout, recorded the journey and wreck on a waterproof camera attached to her wrist. This footage, which also forms the basis of her subsequent film Purple Sea, is a unique, situated perspective of this tragic event at the threshold of Europe.  

In collaboration with Alzakout, Forensic Architecture reconstructs the boat’s journey, the shipwreck, and the rescue operation that followed. Cross-referencing the footage with other sources, including a long-range thermal video taken by artist Richard Mosse, videos shot by activists on the shores of Lesvos, professional media accounts, testimonials by the Greek coastguard, satellite imagery, and weather data, the group has worked to untangle what happened and who might be responsible. The reconstruction of the incident—involving smugglers, migrants, rescuers, coastguards, the European border agency Frontex, activists, fishermen, and NGOs—reveals the EU’s politics of closure, a systemic negligence that prioritizes the interception and repelling of those in search of refuge. 

On July 18th, UCCA Center for Contemporary is proud to invite Forensic Architecture Deputy Director and Lead Researcher Christina Varvia and artist Amel Alzakout to participate in a live stream dialogue with UCCA Exhibition Department Director Guo Xi and Curator of Public Programs Fang Yan, discussing their recent work and the multiple threads running through their practice. UCCA English Editor Simon Frank will serve as moderator.


20:00-20:15Brief introduction
20:15-21:15Dialogue with guest speakers
21:15-21:30Audience Questions


Amel Alzakout (Artist, filmmaker)

Amel Alzakout (b. 1988, Syria) is an artist and filmmaker based in Leipzig. Between 2010 and 2013 she studied journalism at Cairo University. In 2017 she participated with other artists in the video installation Trust Us in the 3rd Herbstsalon at the Maxim Gorki Theater, Berlin. Between 2017 and 2018 she studied art at the Weißensee Art Academy in Berlin, and she is currently studying media art at the Academy of Visual Art (HGB) in Leipzig. Purple Sea is her debut film. Her filmography includes: Stranger’s Diaries (2019) with Khaled Abdulwahed, video installation, 35 min; Purple Sea (2020) with Khaled Abdulwahed, 67 min; Home Sweet Home - Corona Creative (2020 with Khaled Abdulwahed, 11 min.

Christina Varvia (Deputy Director/Lead Researcher, Forensic Architecture)

As Deputy Director of Forensic Architecture, Christina coordinates projects, assembles teams, oversees research and the development of new methodologies. She studied Architecture at the University of Westminster (RIBA Part I) and the Architectural Association (AA; RIBA Part II). Her previous research involves studies in digital media and memory, as well as the perception of the physical environment through scanning and imaging technologies—research that she deploys through time-based media. Christina is currently teaching as a Unit Master for Diploma Unit 3 at the AA. She is also a member of the Technology Advisory Board for the International Criminal Court.

Yan Fang (Curator of Public Programs, UCCA)

Yan Fang is an art critic and curator of public programs at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art. She graduated from University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne with a Master’s degree in History of Art: History of Art and Philosophy, and has previously worked at the Musée National d'Art Moderne/Centre Pompidou.

Guo Xi (Director, UCCA Exhibition Department)

Guo Xi is currently director of the exhibition department at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art. Along with other members of the UCCA exhibitions team, she is one of the co-curators of “Meditations in an Emergency.”

Simon Frank (English Editor, UCCA)

Simon Frank is a Canadian writer and translator based in Beijing. He currently serves as English editor at UCCA Center for Contemporary Art. His writing on art and music has appeared in publications including Artforum, Frieze, LEAP, Spike, and more. Simon holds a dual Master’s degree in history from Columbia University and the London School of Economics.