I recently read a compilation of essays, in a work from an outstanding publishing house Sternberg Press, Thousand Eyes: Media Technology, Law and Aesthetics, on the connection between contemporary art and law, particularly courts of law, where the art theory concept of “representation” and the physical and legal attributes of law intersect through the courtroom. From that connection the comparative analyses are many and varied: the courtroom as theatre, evidence as iconoclastic images, and the changing role of new media. But what struck me was the concept of the law court as a bounded space, which reinforces the separateness of the law world from the real world.
In his essay In Between: Power and Procedure Where the Court meets the Public Sphere, Richard Mohr observes the fixity of our courts within a self-constructed bounded space and the resultant tension between those inside, the legal players, and those outside, the public. He argues this border between the two is not just physical but conceptual as well. Not only does the courtroom have a fixed address with an enclosed space but the rules or procedures too emphasis closure through the rules of evidence, which permit only certain forms of approved facts into its space. This closing off of the law not only impacts public access but also public perception.
Other essays in the collection go further and suggest the advent of new media and the relaxation of media in the courtroom has expanded the courtroom walls and changed the static concept of law. However, one of the editors, Judy Radul for whom the essays were published to celebrate her World Rehearsal Court exhibition, in her essay, Video Chamber, argues to the contrary: in her view, the ability of the courts to be connected elsewhere through, for example, CCTV, makes the court an even more enclosed space “monolithic and unmovable” as the court hunkers down, forever fixed in place, as the images come to it.
This legal architecture then becomes an impactful aspect of the law, particularly in light of the access to justice issues Canada has been recently facing. It may also impact how the Supreme Court of Canada view evidentiary rules: should they unbind the courtroom or provide further enclosure?
The connections between art and law may, at first glance, appear superficial: yes, the lawyers are like actors in a Shakespearean play, albeit their backs are usually to the audience. However, when viewed through the lens of art theory, the representational force of the law cannot be doubted. This is something to think about when arguing in the bounded space of the law.