These six videos 2021-22 investigate the politics of ‘cold’ through the examination of a series of cases and contexts in which the thermostatic condition of cold and its differential experiences and effects are entangled with legal questions, human rights violations, but also claims for social and environmental justice.


Commissioned by Momenta Biennale de I’Image 2021 & Toronto Biennial of Art 2022
Produced in collaboration with Forensic Architecture / Omar Ferwati        
Research assistance Henry Bradley

This COLD CASE is inspired by the 2005 petition (Seeking Relief From Violations Resulting from Global Warming Caused By Acts and Omissions of the United States) submitted by Inuk activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier on behalf of herself and sixty-two Inuit to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For communities living in the Arctic, especially indigenous people, warming has brought about a range of transformations in modes of existence and the life-worlds upon which their very survival depends. The “right to be cold” as the petition came to be known, was summarily dismissed by the IACHR. In revisiting this provocative demand and subsequent petitions, the COLD CASE underscores our very inseparability with the environments in which we are all enfolded. Cold politics demands an engagement with a “climatic” sense of justice rather than a partitioning of rights.
Of the 320 articles, 17 sections, and 9 annexes that makes up the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea or UNCLOS, only a single article of a 104 words deals with water in its frozen state, despite the fact that sea and Polar ice make up 2% of the world’s oceans. This COLD CASE examines the changing thermal dynamics that are redrawing the ‘natural’ ice edge floes, which in turn are redefining sovereignty claims as well as opening up new transportation networks and ever-greater access to resources in the North. In exploring Article 234, the COLD CASE also confronts the geo-political imaginary of UNCLOS and its privileging of water that flows, especially as its relates to security, navigation, and commerce; priorities that re-inscribe existing colonial relations into ice.

This COLD CASE focuses on the emergent ecological discourse around the rights of nature. Specifically, the ethical and ecological question as to whether one has the ‘right’ to ‘break’ sea ice as a routine consequence of maritime governance. Ice under these conditions is narrowly conceived as a strategic barrier to coastguard patrol that can be overcome through local fracturing. It is not viewed as material that is integral to ecosystem stability more broadly. While scientists admit that the open-water left in the wake of an icebreaker absorbs more solar energy and thus melts ice away along its trail, they argue that the contribution of icebreaking to climate change are minimal. This COLD CASE explores the rights of water bodies and asks whether a change in material state through freezing should transform rights as well.

This COLD CASE examines the practice in Canadian policing known as “starlight tours” which involved dropping Indigenous people taken into custody in remote areas, resulting in exposure, hypothermia, and freezing death. Admission to abandonment as a shadow operation of policing has been vigorously denied and disciplinary action and accountability remains infrequent and is at best significantly delayed. Yet the pattern and practice of “starlight tours” has unfolded across cities and rural communities in Canada for decades. When authorities were forced to confront the outcomes of inquiries and commissions, denial and indifference on the part of those implicated was the norm. COLD CASES discussed include Neil Stonechild, Frank Joseph Paul, Lloyd Joseph Dustyhorn, Darrell Night, Rodney Naistus, Lawrence Kim Wegner, Robert & Joel Houle, and recent reports from Val-d'Or, Quebec.

This COLD CASE investigates the events of the evening of November 20th 2016 at Backwater Bridge within the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota during the “noDAPLmovement”. Despite sub-zero temperatures and a wind chill of -10 Celsius, the Morton County Sheriff began a 12-hour assault against Water Protectors and their allies firing a water canon against protestors throughout the night. As core temperatures of bodies fell into the danger zone, the campfires that were being used to generate warmth were also targeted. This aggressive campaign to disband water protectors from mobilising support included the use of explosive grenades and rubber bullets. The military-style blockade of the highway by law enforcement further hampered amedical treatment. Over 200 peaceful protestors were injured that night – twenty-six needing immediate hospitalisation. Over 300 cases of hypothermia were reported.

This COLD CASE explores the incarceration of migrants in cramped freezer-like cells in US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention centres along the US/Mexico border from 2003 to the present. According to law, temperatures in the temporary holding cells must be maintained at between 20-24 degrees. Yet repeated testimonies from former “icebox” detainees corroborate accounts of the dire conditions experienced in these cells—all emphasising how frigid it gets with air conditioning blasting throughout the facility. When guards met out punishment, it is often a threat to turn the temperature down. Under detention, modulation of temperature becomes another mode of governance over migrant lives. An instrument of abusive control aimed at dissuading migrants from claiming formal asylum, which would move them from their temporary holding cells into permanent Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities (ICE).