H as in Historical Conscious-ness

von Michael Fässler Michael Fässler, *1984, ist Kommunikationsverantwortlicher im Stapferhaus Lenzburg. Er studiert seit 2012 im Master Kulturpublizistik. Als Teil des Labors Kulturpublizistik war er an der Konzeption von Zollfreilager beteiligt. gepostet am 24. November 2014
  • Foto: Michael Fässler

Whatever history is, it’s over, even if it isn’t complete. History wants to and should be made available for experience and understanding. Tough men should fight each other again, even if they’re just shooting with blanks. The revival of that, which has already been, is very much in demand; the conditions for a so-called reenactment can be counted off on one hand.

They are:

  • a memorable story, like a heroic epic or a tragedy
  • the motivation to perform this story again. Possibilities: an homage, a defense of honor, a cautionary tale
  • a stage
  • a few actors and,
  • in the best case scenario, an audience

How real this story ultimately is for the audience varies from performance to performance. At one end of the realness-scale lies Milo Raus’ International Institute of Political Murder. Their documentary theatre piece The last days of the Ceausescus, for example, about the execution of the dictator Ceausescu, or Hate Radio, about an effective instrument of the Rwandan genocide. These pieces are based on real recordings and are played to perfection. The reenactment and the original overlap, the illusion is perfect and leaves its mark on the audience. On the other end of the realness-scale one could place the SRF Documentary epos The Swiss. A powerful piece of history is performed here as well: the battle of Morgarten, the fight for the Gotthard Pass. All of that really did happen, but the illusion does not quite work here. After all, your home television acts as the stage, and you recognize one or the other performer from a different SRF entertainment programming.

But what happens when the performers stay home during the reenactment? Is it possible to bring a place steeped in history – the original stage – back to life through a repeated assemblage? For this year’s international exhibition at the Giardini, German’s official entry was an exact copy of the interiors of the Chancellor’s Bungalow in Bonn, which was staged as the “living room of the nation” from 1964 – 1999. It was planted in the German pavilion, a construction also very rich in history. Step into the German pavilion and you step into a different time, one that could smell like cigarettes or testosterone. Under the pavilion’s dome, which was reconstructed as a representational building for the Third Reich in 1938, one suddenly finds oneself in the open spaces of the sixties. At one time they were supposed to embody the values of the young federal republic – openness, transparency, and co-determination – at the original site, although the people only knew them as television images. But these rooms in Venice are silent, the rulers have moved out, the bookshelves emptied, no fire in the fireplace. A vacuum remains. Two buildings, steeped in history, two symbolic spaces collide and open a third space for the audience. The theme of this year’s international exhibition, Absorbing modernity, works not only between a room and a room, but also between a room and an audience.

A similar venture was undertaken in Venice last year as well. The Harald Szeemann exhibition When Attitudes Become Form from 1969, displayed at the Kunsthalle Bern in 2013 and then moved to the Art Biennale were transferred, that is, faithfully reconstructed, in the Fonazione Prada at the Canal Grande. Even the ceiling lights were real, or at least they looked like the ones in Bern. But as real as the reenactment with the original artworks may seem: this exhibition – just like the Chancellor’s Bungalow and the television battle of Morgarten – especially visualizes the relativity of the present. The world keeps turning, if you like it or not. The rooms, once filled with meaning, are suddenly just rooms. What was so groundbreaking about the Szeeman exhibit in 1969 barely has an effect four decades later. The Chancellor’s Bungalow is a protected monument.

Nothing remains but the view of the city in which the Chancellor’s Bungalow and the Szeemann exhibition were reenacted, a city that is also the object of gigantic reenactments. Copies of the city center exist in Antalya, Las Vegas and Macau, although the one in Macau is not, strictly speaking, a copy of the original but a copy of the copy in Las Vegas. Of course there won’t be a shortage of audience members, but it does remain to be asked which story is actually being retold.

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Translation: Sophia Cosby