Corpus: the brief1
Artists David A.R. Ross and Ray Langenbach are collaborating on an installation and performance at this year’s XX Mänttä Art Festival. Video monitors display films explaining the details of a series of legal cases concerning Ross’ 29 year investigation into a case of child trafficking. On the table is the legal brief recently submitted to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, requesting Ross’ right to a hearing. Ross invites members of the public into the space of an Orwellian paradox: while he is present with the them in time and space, relating the story of his pending application for asylum in Finland from the United States, virtually every conventional aspect of his identity has been erased. He has no ID or passport, no bank account, medical coverage, home, job, professional license, means of income or civil rights. Yet, Ross has not been accused of committing a crime in any country. The installation presents a comfortable living room with chalkboard walls on which all information appears for a moment and is then erased.
In 1970-80’s, hundreds of European and Russian children were transported to Helsinki from Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Holland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary and Germany. They were provided with false documents and flown to New York, from where they were disbursed to other cities. In 2006, Austrian, Belgian, and USA police (Secret Service, U.S. Marshals and FBI) identified this child trafficking ring, run by court officials, was using the Maryland Courthouse as a platform. Ross worked on the case as a bank examiner/auditor for many years and then as a Court-appointed attorney. The child trafficking was part of a massive bank conspiracy involving the “Coffee Fund” account in the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI)2, involving billions of dollars and important US and foreign government officials.
theft and asylum
In 2008, when returning home after receiving material evidence concerning the direct participation of the Maryland judiciary in the child trafficking conspiracy, Ross was struck by a vehicle and the material evidence removed from his car at on night of 30-31 August. This prevented him from placing the evidence in court on the following business day. As a result of the car crash, Ross was permanently disabled and now walks with “Southpaw”, a medically certified Service-Dog to prevent falls. At least seven other persons died violently just prior to providing testimony on the case.
Ross fled the United States after refusing a bribe and acts of extortion to conceal the existence of child trafficking and direct threats to his freedom, property and physical safety. It was then that all the above aspects of his identity were erased. Since free-speech is protected under Finnish law, Ross is able to tell his story here.
Ray Langenbach & David A.R. Ross: Habeas Corpus, 2015,
installaatio-performanssi. (Kuva: Timo Nieminen.)
This installation-performance presents part of the story of Dr. Ross’ asylum application. As a performative demonstration of the plea for Humanitarian Protection that brought Ross to Finland 16 months ago in November 2013, this installation is both a symbolic platform and utilitarian device. It deploys the role of art and the Festival as a leverage system to provide Ross, the former Forensic Auditor3 and Attorney with a new identity as an artist. This then may help him obtain new identity papers, and a work permit here. Collapsing the fourth wall between the art and real-lives, the installation raises questions of representation, belief, certainty, truth and the power to convince. It opens to our reflection the economies of life, law, international finance, international relations and artistic production.
The bodies of the children, Ross’ body, and those of people in other abjected communities, are at extreme risk. Fundamental assumptions concerning certainty and proof as the foundation of justice became the first victims in this case, because, according to Ross’ and the children’s testimony, it was the court, the judges, clerks and law enforcement agencies themselves that were the traffickers.
This installation and performance opens the legal establishment in the United States and Finland to scrutiny. It maintains that art has a responsibility to provide a space for interrogation into a society’s most cherished institutions, and the principles that underpin them. The complexities and nuances of this case bring to bear questions concerning the viewer’s epistemologies –how does an individual know what s/he knows. How do you come to trust what you hear? How much information is necessary before you believe or disbelieve Ross’s story, and act in accordance with your beliefs?
1 Habeas Corpus: The right of the prisoner to appear in court and confront the accusations made against him/her. Brief: A short summary of the arguments on both sides of the case to give the judge of the overview of the case prior to a hearing.
3 Forensic Auditor: An expert financial investigator, who examines the financial records and work of other financial auditors.