In a Different Light

"Witnesses!" at the HAU Two: A Play of Criminal Court Matters by Rimini Protokoll

By Doris Meierhenrich

12.01.2004 / Berliner Zeitung

Engraved over the entrance of the Moabit county court stands “The sun brings it into daylight”. And just as if the sun had descended into the interior decoration of the HAU there is a gigantic plaster rosette on the stage wall. Underneath him, there are eight people who construct the Moabit court hall while they are discussion the architecture of the legal system.

Once more, the directors team Rimini Protokoll embarks with their new research-performance “Witnesses!” which had its opening night on Saturday on the quest of what is generally termed ‘reality’: the court of legal justice. Like in previous field studies about democracy (“Deutschland 2”; “Germany 2”) or death (“Deadline”) the team converts the technique of social studies again into a artistic therapy. For “A Play of Criminal Justice”, Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel did their research in the court halls of Moabit, talked with the people involved and hired ‘real’ personnel of justice for their documentary – fictional re-enactment. Legal expertise meets imaginatively composed theatre.

A passionate observer claims that legal courts are similar to churches, a postal clerk believes she’s able to use her common sense as a juror, at home she cobbles lace-mats, a carpenter explains the seating order according to the hierarchy, a court-draughtsman shows her ‘realistic’ sketches which capture the looks exchanged between the judges and the accused, and which she entitles herself ‘unpleasant’ or ‘dramatic’. Every technical term, every word, every object shines all of a sudden with an opposing or double meaning.

The artificial trial reality shifts unerringly under the hands of Rimini Protokoll into an unveiling art project. The abstract turns back into its concrete motif and shows the obvious through side remarks. The trial begins while the participants introduce themselves: common accusations are announced, typical gestures of witnesses and accused are copied, photographs which serve as proofs are described differently.

“Witnesses!” is not discussion-theatre, but an intelligent lab full of images, a critical anatomy-presentation under Foucault’s banner. The order of punishment is marked in detail along the fringes, as demonstrated by the juror and her lace-mats. The trial looses itself with detailed images, lapses and gaps of text. “Witnesses!” reveals in exactly this wooden amateur-play and its precise information, its many experts and social predictions which effectively delegate the sentence how the court always judges something else besides the criminal deed.




Zeugen! Ein Strafkammerspiel