Bystanders & Memory: Between the Museum and the Theatre

Public Panel: Erica Lehrer, Roma Sendyka, Bryce Lease

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

18 October, 6pm

In December 2018, the exhibition, “Terribly close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust” (Widok zza bliska. Inne obrazy Zagłady), opened at the Ethnographic Museum in Krakow, curated by Erica Lehrer, Roma Sendyka, Wojciech Wilczyk, and Magdalena Zych. The exhibition showcases how local artists in Poland attempted to represent the events they witnessed during World War II. The objects on display in the museum challenge what is understood as Holocaust art, expand the field of Holocaust memory studies to include “minor,” “peripheral,” or “awkward” objects, as well as contribute to larger debates about “difficult heritage” or “difficult knowledge”. In collaboration with the curators, the Staging Difficult Pasts project team commissioned Polish artist Wojtek Ziemilski to create a commemorative performance action, which consisted of transporting a wooden toy in a form of a car, described as “truposznica” or a corpse carrier used transport the dead bodies that had been gassed to be cremated, from the Ethnographic Museum to the Cricoteka, housing the objects and machines associated with the work of Tadeusz Kantor. This panel will reflect upon the exhibition and the performance action, discussing tensions between representation and performativity, the dynamic relationships between museal and theatrical frames and memory and history.


Staging Difficult Pasts: The 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Graduate Seminar/Fall 2019

Michal Kobialka, University of Minnesota and Jan Lazardzig, Freie Universität Berlin

West German citizens gather at a newly created opening in the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz in November 1989. DoD photo

While the Berlin Wall was being dismantled in November 1989, it seemed to many that everything was possible, including the creation of a new political and economic system—neither socialism nor capitalism—that would herald a shift towards a new order of things defined by the practices hitherto considered to be utopian or not-yet existent. As Arthur Kroker and Marilouise Kroker argued in Ideology and Power in the Age of Lenin in Ruins,

[w]hen the Berlin Wall finally came tumbling down, all of the old comfortable markers of political debate suddenly shattered, revealing in its wake a desperate urgency to rethinking the meaning of ideology and power in a world dominated by the eclipse of the political legitimation of state socialism and by the seeming triumph everywhere now of the rituals of primitive capitalism.

This utopian ontology tried to prove false the counter-statements in, for example, Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay, “The End of History,” which pronounced “the triumph of the West, of the Western idea [...] evident first of all in the total exhaustion of the viable systematic alternative to Western liberalism” and in the ideological victory of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government; or Jürgen Kocka’s argument that, despite its destructive aspects, modern technological society based on capitalist free market, highly developed technologies, and democratic institutions guaranteed civil liberties, social justice, and cultural pluralism. These narratives promoted the idea that history had ended or was ending, and, therefore, the present or the immanent future would bring about a post-historical condition in the not-yet existent world.

Today, on the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of the Wall, this graduate seminar will consider a number of possibilities of how to think about that so-called post-historical condition as well as about the different pathways of how to address the idea of staging difficult past. To accomplish this task, the seminar will focus on the performative and historiographic aspects of the commemorations of the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as one the idea of staging difficult pasts on the both sides of the divide. The seminar will be divided into two parts: Part I will focus on the discussion of the following issues:

Theatre/Performance Historiography: Time, Space, Matter; Writing & History; Foundational & Rhetorical Histories Debates; Historical Archives, Events, Facts, & Objects; Materialist History; New Materialism; and the Politics of Regret—this part will be taught jointly. Part II will focus on students’ research and presentations about the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, and 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The class will culminate in a trip to Berlin in December 2019 in order to locate the theoretical discourses in the landscape/topography of Berlin itself.

This project is funded by a grant from DAAD.


STAGING DIFFICULT PASTS is an AHRC funded project: Grant reference: AH/R006849/1