Von Ulrich Seidler
14.03.2011 / Berliner Zeitung
Within the next ten years, according to one expert commenting over the weekend on the catastrophe in Japan, there will be a mega-quake near Istanbul, a capital city of 13 million people. It will be far more devastating than the one in the much better-prepared Japan. Istanbul lies between Asia and Europe on a rift between the continental plates. On Friday in Hau2 at the Berlin premiere of this piece by documentary theatre group Rimini Protokoll, which first premiered in Istanbul in October and has travelled far and wide since then, a monitor displays seismographic signals transmitted live from Istanbul and other places in Turkey. The curve trembles and an accompanying rumbling, crackling sound is heard. Things are on the move. Plates drift around on a globe that, together with a few other planets, reels around a sun, which in turn wanders on through nothingness.
For Rimini Protokoll, the instability of the Earth’s crust is a metaphor for the fragility of all those balances we rely on, although it’s not really clear why they have not long since collapsed. If the very ground beneath our feet, which we regard as solid, is in fact just a floe teetering on bubbling lava, why doesn’t it break loose or break off or break down? World markets, revolutions, traffic, epidemics, radioactivity, ecosystems, over-population, criminality.
That’s just the outermost of the many frames Rimini Protokoll encompass their subjects in. "Mr Dagaçar and the golden tectonics of trash" centres on five men who the theatre directors had flown in from Istanbul: Abdullah Dagaçar, Aziz Idikurt and Mithat Içten. They regularly travel to Istanbul from their home in Anatolia, where there are no jobs, in order to look through the garbage for valuable materials that they can sell. In Istanbul they live in shacks that they knock together out of rubbish. Roma Bayram Renklihava, born on Istanbul’s Asian side and brought up by his grandparents, has made garbage collecting a way of life. He’s an "artist" in this area he says and has evidently built up a modest, but functional existence for himself and his family. These are just four of the thousands who fan out daily with man-sized handcarts to pick the plastics, metal and paper out of what others have thrown away.
The fifth in the group is shadow theatre player Hasan Hüseyin Karabag, who reflects the stories of these treasure hunters in the folklore-inspired tales of Turkish Karagöz puppet theatre. Perhaps that’s theatre’s most important function: to provide a narrative platform for an unstable reality. It’s also what Karabag tried to do after the earthquake in Izmit in 1999, in theatre workshops with traumatised children who had been buried under rubble and become so afraid of the dark that they no longer dared to close their eyes.
Which brings us to the nightmare that Renklihava recounts at the beginning of the evening, introducing many of its subsequent themes. In his dream, a virus breaks out and kills all the world’s children, including his own. He packs them into rubbish bags and throws them away.
These are by no means all of the evening’s various associations, but the meta-level should also not be forgotten; namely theatre directors Helgard Haug and Daniel Wetzel from Switzerland, who picked their protagonists out of the crowd and are now shepherding them, complete with their handcarts, through international theatre festivals. "Will we get out of here alive?" they asked themselves when they went to the garbage dump to cast collectors. The theatre directors’ intervention in the garbage collectors’ everyday lives could be compared with a small biographical tremor. The Rimini directors even packed up the collection point and wanted to use it as a stage set, offering the garbage collectors a mobile residential container in exchange. Their offer was rejected.
Drift is the magic word of this apparently dry, prosaic evening, which only really starts to sink in after you’ve thought about it for a while. Continents, rubbish heaps, streams of migrants all drift. Reality drifts too, with the presentation of myths and dreams. Even the evening’s intellectual approach incorporates this magic word, as it drifts off in a deliberate way typical of Rimini projects, capturing reality’s poeticising meanderings; now in the image of the garbage-laden tsunami breaking over Japan.