By Nikolaus Stenitzer
06.05.2015 / Nachtkritik
Ring the doorbell for Rimini Protokoll. The new project "Home Visit Europe / Hausbesuch Europa" is performed in private homes, and its actors are the residents and their guests. It is games night, and the subject is a capricious one: European understanding.
The cash register instructs
Europe begins as a homemade map that has been rolled out over a long table in the Prenzlauer Berg flat where "Home Visit Europe" has its premiere. As the evening progresses, the fifteen guests will hunch over it and reflect on the "Europe project" – or perhaps they'll be thinking about something completely different. A friendly master of ceremonies welcomes the guests and explains the rules: First, each guest is to use a marker to draw three points on the map: their place of birth, their place of residence, and a place with which they associate a significant event. A vibrant network of lines begins to emerge over Europe, as does the sense that we will be doing everything ourselves tonight.
This proves to be the case. But it wouldn't be Rimini Protokoll without tech. When the last guests have been ushered in, the game master introduces the machine that will be guiding the group through the evening: A small box that spits out information and instructions at the push of a button (and occasionally plays celebratory or dramatic music). The game, then, will be self-explanatory. The guests determine the direction of the performance, and their actions in turn follow the structural composition conceived by Rimini Protokoll. It is not unlike other performances in the public realm. But here, the stage is not a public place, but a private space. Is that a lesson?
Putting the European cake in the oven
As the evening progresses, we learn about European history: European treaties were signed at a table "such as this one", as the machine's emissions inform us. A historical event is equivalent to a level of "Home Visit Europe". When the essentials concerning the location and the hostess are out of the way (how long have you been living here? what do your neighbours do?), the questions are directed at the other guests: Who is member of a union, a political party, a club? Who has faith in democracy? Who has lied about their own nationality? Confessional hands are raised. The answers will be relevant later on, so occasionally, additional information is requested and written down. A majority vote decides whom to ask for more information, and their stories are drawn onto the map. Once in a while, instructions loosen things up: Some of the players have to hide under the table, others have to put the "European cake" in the oven.
Elevating one's own relevance
In the course of the game, the structure gives way to entertaining and perhaps intentional meanders: Sometimes, the personal stories are perhaps quite simply more interesting than pan-European decisions. So it would seem at least, and the information about political processes spat out by Rimini Protokoll's revolving machine often gets lost. This could also be due to the fact that the participants’ native languages are numerous – this has also resulted in frequent communicative difficulties. In the final phase there are decisions to be made: Participants are divided into teams based on their voting behaviour throughout the evening, and the teams vote with the help of mobile devices. We learn that this phase has its European-political parallel in several recent, politically significant EU treaties – Dublin and Maastricht, asylum and economic policy. It's about inclusion and exclusion, but most of all it's about getting a piece of the "European cake", the smell of which is already wafting in from the kitchen: There are points to be won and lost that elevate one's own relevance. Here, clumsiness, backing the wrong horse and perhaps erroneously adopting a majority voting system might result in becoming an irrelevant dwarf nation and going home without any cake.
A sinister process
It is difficult to evaluate a work – artistic, political, artistic-political – that relies so heavily on the involvement of its changing participants as "Home Visit Europe" does. The project's first installment, which will tour private apartments throughout Europe in the months to come, was often at its most interesting in its haziest moments – particularly during the escalating voting marathon with its self-contradictory alliances and hopeless strategic attempts that were about everything except the matters at hand. The sinister process that arises from the game – the eminently political nature of which only becomes apparent after reflecting two or three times – is probably the most compelling contribution that can be made by this kind of performance. Some of the political messages strewn about however, such as the metaphor of the "European cake", do seem slightly stale.
Translation by Justina Bartoli