Liquid Traces offers a synthesis of our reconstruction of the events of what is known as the 'left-to-die boat'. 72 passengers who left the Libyan coast heading in the direction of the island of Lampedusa on board a small rubber boat were left to drift for 14  days  in  NATO’s  maritime  surveillance  area. Despite  several  distress  signals relaying  their  location,  as  well  as  repeated  interactions,  including  at  least  one  military helicopter visit and an encounter with a military ship, no action was taken. As a result, only 9 people survived.

In producing this reconstruction, our research has used against the grain the 'sensorium of  the  sea' –  the  multiple  remote  sensing  devises  used  to  record  and  read  the  sea’s depth and surface. Contrary to the vision of the sea as a non-signifying space in which any event  immediately  dissolves  into  moving  currents,  with  our  investigation we demonstrated that traces are indeed left in water, and that by reading them carefully the sea itself can be turned into a witness for interrogation. As a time-based media, the animation also gives form to the Mediterranean’s differential rhythms of mobility that have emerged through the progressive restriction of legal means of access to the EU for certain categories of people and the simultaneous acceleration of the flows of goods and capital.

Lorenzo Pezzani

Charles Heller is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London. He is conducting postdoctoral research supported by the Swiss National Fund (SNF). 

Lorenzo Pezzani is a Lecturer at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London, where he leads the MA studio in Forensic Architecture. 

Together, they co-founded Forensic Oceanography and the WatchTheMed platform. In collaboration with a wide network of NGOs, scientists, journalists, and activist groups, Forensic Oceanography has produced maps, videos and human right reports that critically investigate the militarized border regime and the politics of migration in the Mediterranean Sea.


Death by Rescue (2016), Liquid Traces (2014)