Maud Craigie - 'Indications of Guilt, pt.1'
‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth’ writes Oscar Wilde in an often cited passage from The Critic as Artist.
One hundred and thirty years after his original utterance we are accustomed to accepting the performances of day to day living, whether these be at work, in our engagements with friends, and online. We also derive great pleasure in the imaginary performances of theatre, cinema and broadcasting. What happens when these illusions, the ‘mask’ which Wilde refers to, are staged outside of these more customary contexts?
Indications of Guilt, pt.1 is an installation by Maud Craigie which explores the interchange between fiction and reality. A new film work, alongside a selection of found objects, probe the investigative process in US law enforcement, finding in it surprising and shocking ways in which the system is calibrated to permit the filtering of fictional narratives into what should be an objective, truth seeking exercise. Through reenacted archetypal detective-suspect interview scenarios, short clips from American TV crime dramas, interviews with detectives, and mobile phone footage surreptitiously captured by the artist during detective training sessions, Craigie interrogates the interrogation process, critically examining the disturbingly prevalent practice of extracting false confessions from suspects. By turning their observational and investigative strategies onto themselves (in Texas it is legal for detectives to video record interrogations of suspects without their knowledge), Craigie reflects on the biases at work in the interrogation process.
‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is a familiar phrase and key legal principle applied in both the UK and America’s jurisdiction systems and protected by the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The interrogation methods we are shown seem to apply this principle in reverse; detectives have the power to determine if a suspect is guilty of a crime as early as the initial questioning. After reaching this decision, which can be based upon as little as a personal hunch, detectives are able to deploy manipulative and forceful techniques during subsequent interrogations, like asking suggestive questions, exerting emotional pressure, and by implying they have evidence which they don’t have - a tactic referred to as ‘trickery’ - to obtain a confession. This has led to suspects falsely confessing to crimes that they did not commit, even in murder cases with severe penalties attached. We are introduced to these highly questionable techniques in Indications of Guilt, pt.1’s opening scene, which depicts a staged interrogation between a retired detective and a Meisner trained actor who plays the role of a suspect who is believed to have shaken a baby to its death. The detective’s interrogation fluctuates between caring, empathic and aggressive as they attempt to secure an admission of guilt. ‘Who do you think the jury will believe?’ he eventually asks, an accusatory challenge which insinuates that the suspect has no other option but to give the detective the answer that he wants.
We later learn that this staged sequence is not a fictional scenario exaggerated for audience effect but a close reproduction of the ways that real interrogations in the US are conducted. These reenactments are used as an investigative tool by Craigie to get to the truth of interrogation in US law enforcement, emphasising the strategies used by detectives that allow them to direct the construction of a narrative of a crime to their choosing. Instead of being directed by the evidence, they are legally able to use interrogation to generate a narrative that they have already decided upon. The performance of the detective and the suspect play a crucial role in this process; we learn how officers read a suspect’s body language and how they use carefully selected, performative language (the preference of the phrase ‘we are here to ‘work’ with you’ rather than ‘we are here to ‘help’ you’’ for instance). The suspect is also seemingly judged on the way that they successfully, or unsuccessfully, react, phrase their answers, and present themselves during this phase of questioning. They are only free to go if they play their role ‘correctly’.
Craigie continues to illustrate more overt and surprising proximities between fiction and nonfiction in the interrogative process through the inclusion of clips from film and television crime dramas. Whilst in Texas she learned that an interrogation trainer whom she met shows the clips from these crime dramas to police recruits in their training sessions, a discovery that illustrates one way in which fiction plays a role in the education of those at the beginning of their detective career. In fictional representations it is expected that certain elements have been fabricated, elaborated, or sensationalised for entertainment purposes. In these sequences Craigie demonstrates the way a feedback loop is created between fictional representations of interrogation and interrogation itself. It is worth asking what the consequences of this could be, in which exaggerated representations of reality go on to inform that very reality.
Within the field of documentary there have been ongoing reflections on the complications between realism and representation. These acknowledge that audio-visual material that appears unbiased and objective is always based on a point of view of a filmmaker and purports a given interpretation of the world. These considerations sit adjacent to the film’s questioning of the objective process of evidence gathering in the US. There is no voice-over narrative through which Craigie presents an explicit value judgement, but her own investigation is unavoidably implicitly directed by her personal beliefs. These are revealed in subtle ways through her selection and assemblage of her filmed and found material, where her discoveries are, at times, shown to be extremely alarming. Especially in moments when it is indicated that the freedom that officers have in manipulating criminal narratives can be dictated by individual societal prejudices, such as gendered, racial and class biases. The nature of the strategies employed in interrogations are acknowledged by a retired detective who appears in the work and, on multiple occasions, attempts to distance himself from the ‘character’ that he once embodied. ‘This isn’t really me!’ he stresses. He is simply following procedure. The law enforcement profession has the authority to authenticate events, proving that they actually happened. Indications of Guilt, pt.1 highlights the ways that fiction infiltrates this process. Situating these concerns alongside an understanding of documentary imbued in a subjective point of view indicates the ways that, to best access reality, we should reach for artifice.