Anika Marschall*

In events such as the war in Syria, the genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq, or the heavily reported drowning of many refugees[1] near Lampedusa—making the island’s name a catchphrase for the failures of European immigration policy—different public actors demand new perspectives on our political landscape and its constitution. At the same time, they are challenging political constructions of identity as well as categories such as ethnicity, nationality and gender. The presence of refugees all over Europe challenges current social structures by making demands on political decision-making, but also may accomplish a long-term remodelling of terms such as “community” and “utopia,” and imageries of the State and the European Union. Normative categorizations of the bodies of human beings take place not only within the asylum seeking process and in detention centres, but also within the theatre sphere, where many theatre makers themselves determine to become all sorts of agents for refugees.[2] With regard to current social movements in Germany dealing with the essential need for a long-term cultural integration of refugees, I want to examine the performative and dramaturgical strategies of the Centre for Political Beauty, which gives interventionist performances that provoke a wider discourse on ethics and political interventions.

Centre for Political Beauty

The so-called “artworks”[3] by the Centre for Political Beauty, a German fringe theatre collective based in Berlin, challenge current policies on migration and statelessness, and question seemingly given certainties and their audiences’ ethical stands. The artists aim to raise awareness of humanitarian issues and challenge what they call their audiences’ “political apathy.”[4] Their rhetoric and the imagery of their performances often seem to be radical, ideological and political. The artists fashion themselves as “an assault team that establishes moral beauty, political poetry and human greatness while aiming to preserve humanitarianism.”[5] Here, their usage of rhetorical terms refers to specific historical and nationalist German discourses, and function to position the artists within cultural discourses about artists helping to save the nation. The group bases its agency and objectives on the notion that—due to the historic legacy of the Holocaust—they are obliged to do anything in their power to prevent future genocides from happening. Still, in so doing, or, at least, in promoting this position, the artistic and dramaturgical members of that group belong to a white, mostly male, German cultural and intellectual elite.

In their most recent performance, Flüchtlinge Fressen [Eating Refugees][6] (2016), the artists installed, next to the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin, a huge outdoor cage that held four Libyan tigers. Against the backdrop of the political deal between Turkey and EU on deporting migrants back to Turkey in exchange for monetary investments, the artists protested against the restrictions on immigration imposed by the federal government. The Syrian actress May Skaf publicly announced that she would let herself be eaten by the tigers in order to extort a parliamentary vote against this policy. Without comparing the efficacy and outrage caused by this performance to others staged before, it seems to thrive on a new level of absurdity and exoticism, while also adding a layer of ethical distress that is concerned with more-than-human[7] entities. In 2015, their performance The Dead Are Coming comprised the exhumation of the dead bodies of refugees that drowned in the Mediterranean sea and that were interred in mass graves amidst a public burial ceremony in the German capital.

Artists of the Centre for Political Beauty address the press.
Artists of the Centre for Political Beauty address the press. Credits: Ruben Neugebauer

While playing the role of agents for the bodies of refugees, the collective, as an overall white and intellectual, academic body/cast, depicts itself as the people’s agent, representing superior moral standards as a historical response to the German political apathy during World War II. Emphasizing the radical nature of their performance practice, the Centre for Political Beauty draws on theatrical objectives that reveal the recurrence of (re-)forming and shaping a new human being. In doing so, they do not only act as theatrical and political provocateurs, but also enact a certain idea of moral and avant-garde leadership. However, the collective’s performances, such as The Dead Are Coming and Eating Refugees, lack a performative reflexion upon their becoming agents for more-than-human entities, non-citizens,[8] illegal and marginalised, or even dead, bodies and voices.[9] Their performances aim, paradoxically, to include claims for motivating a responsibility towards political justice while, at the same time, avowing a commonality between their choice of agency on behalf of (dead) refugee bodies/voices and the potential of these (dead) bodies/voices that are used as performative symbols. While often aimed at evoking empathy, however, this social ideal of a homogeneous us and them has the tendency to render invisible migrant presences. It must be remembered that Germany is a pluralistic public sphere and, therefore, includes amongst their audiences people who have escaped from war, discrimination or poverty themselves, and are still suffering from these conditions and, moreover, from structural social exclusion.

What seems to be crucial to the aesthetics of these performances is “their ethical and political dubiousness,” and how the artists—without making use of cultural irony—co-opt much of the vocabulary of “actual” political campaigns, which then become distorted and inverted. The performances by the Centre for Political Beauty are operating in a time of—with reference to Antonio Gramsci—a “war of position,”[10] when a crisis-momentum[11] is being negotiated in emotionally heated public debates, and not only when the official news reports cover the so-called refugee crisis on a daily basis, but when the discourse on this “crisis” is also happening in social media such as twitter, Facebook and in everyday meetings with colleagues, friends and family members. To situate this political context, I refer to anthropologists Seth Holmes and Heide Castañeda:

Exercising often controversial leadership as Europe’s largest economy, Germany played an especially important role in responding to the crisis in the summer and fall of 2015, occupying an important political and rhetorical position within media narratives. …Germany has responded with an ambivalent hospitality that is uniquely nuanced and conditioned by memories (and some present-day realities) of xenophobia and fascism.[12]

Underlining different performative approaches to the status of the refugee as a “political misfit,”[13] or as an exotically and artistically marked symbol for a theatrical high culture, we[14] must discuss the following questions with fruitful rigour: How do the Centre for Political Beauty’s bodies perform their non-refugee status in relation to the agency of different (and also dead) bodies with a refugee-status? With what strategies do they approach these performative and legal frictions? What does the concept of theatricality add to their performance within their status as a non-refugee independent German theatre collective?

In the following, I will analyse how the Centre for Political Beauty uses stereotypes that are not being deconstructed or questioned and, in doing so, they not only reproduce nationalist racisms, but also stand in a long tradition of colonial re-presentation of Black and the Other.[15] While unpacking what kind of audiences they address therein, I argue that they (re-)produce a discourse which remains embedded in the victimization and objectification of refugees and migrants,[16] and structures of feelings in our society that are—even at charity-based events—complicit with what Emma Cox convincingly analyses as the “perceptual binary that situates refugees as objects for our comprehension.”[17] However, it is also to question how that designated us is situated in the German cultural context of the Centre for Political Beauty’s performances: The German society increasingly comprises heterogeneous cultural backgrounds, families and identity and status experiences as German citizens, but emerging scholarship shows how this diversity cannot be found in the German institutional theatre landscape.[18]

The First Fall of the European Wall (2014)

The Centre for Political Beauty’s fringe performance The First Fall of the European Wall (2014) attempted to tackle the issue of the effectively stateless position of displaced non-European individuals. In criticism of the Dublin Regulation and in protesting the increasing militarization of Europe’s border zone, the group announced that they would commit a “severe crime” by tearing down the European border fences in Bulgaria. As a response to the many people who are stateless because they cannot cross the militarized and enclosing European border, and as an approach to highlighting the prohibiting actions by individual states, or rather the EU’s failure to act upon them, the Centre for Political Beauty claimed to commit a severe crime outside of the safe space of the theatre building and its make-believe atmosphere.

This announcement not only provoked a broad media and political response by many actors and representatives, but also involved various states’ federal police, state security and border forces, which summoned and searched the participants and spectators at the beginning of the performance. However, the performance raises the question of what is at stake when a German theatre collective announces that it will cross borders in order to tear down the European fences in Bulgaria at the European borders—borders which are outside the boundaries of their home state, Germany. What is revealed when we look at their dispositions and self-stylisation of responses to the so-called refugee-crisis?

In the autumn of 2014, in advance of The First Fall of the European Wall, the Centre for Political Beauty proclaimed on social media and press releases that they were responsible for removing fourteen symbolic white crosses made of steel, which had been installed on a rail on the German Reichstag’s riverside as an art memorial for victims that were murdered or died in the attempt to flee the former GDR territory. They released photos of refugees[19] holding the stolen memorial crosses (or copies of them) in Morocco, near the Spanish border. The action was designed to protest the ritualistic celebrations of German reunification, while the state, at the same time, revealed its—from their perspective—“absurd” deficiency in reacting to and acting upon refugees’ dangerous attempts to cross the European border when, in doing so, they often lose their lives.[20]

Further, the artists published pictures and articles about how they brought the crosses (or copies of them) to seeming refugees who were staying in the woods of Gourougou, in Morocco, close to the Spanish or European border, where they were waiting for a chance to move across the borders.[21] Wearing shirts that are used for marketing by the Centre for Political Beauty’s performance and placed in specific postures, the artists made the skin colour and appearance of these people part of their aesthetic material and depicted them as specifically Other from and for a broad German audience. However, it is ironic that this action was designed for an audience that is concerned with politics about migration movements but, at the same time, might be conceptualized as civic, nationalist, Euro-centric and white.

Other than, for example, the Open-Border congress and the international conference about people smugglers [Schlepper- und Schleusertagung] at the Kammerspiele, in Munich 2016, or the wider programme of the Berliner Theatertreffen 2015, the Centre for Political Beauty has not been involved or cooperated with political activist groups that have been protesting for legalising migration movements and for protecting refugee rights. Even though their performance is held in a public space, the Centre for Political Beauty does not promote or deliberately interact with their audiences or in public dialogues. They always maintain their public personae’s rhetoric and pursue their pre-scripted line of thought, which they are performing for what they call the “civil masses”—a term that discounts those who are not (yet) recognized as “politically integral,”[22] that is, part of a civilized, representative and institutionalized body of the nation. Evelyn Annuß calls this the “Kehrseite der Volksfigur”[23](which can be translated as the “flipside of the figure of the nation” or even “the other body of the nation”).

Picture of two refugees holding a memorial that was stolen by Centre for Political Beauty.
Picture of two refugees holding a memorial that was stolen by Centre for Political Beauty.
Credits: Patryk Witt/Centre for Political Beauty

The broad media coverage of this theft of the white crosses helped to create further public attention towards the collective’s goal of fundraising for their actual performance of The First Fall of the European Wall. For the performance of The First Fall of the European Wall, the artists organized to fund bus travel to the European border, where they claimed they would break what they called the “containment facility,” that is, the barbed wire fence at the Bulgarian-Turkish border that had been built two months before November 9, 2014. In choosing to date this performance announcement on November 3, 2014, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, the artists protested against the state for celebrating reunification in times of inner-European political struggles and for not taking action for the so-called refugee-crisis. This specific rhetorical linkage caused many political responses and created an emotionally heated public debate among different German cultural and historical societies, state and parliamentary politicians, as well as feuilleton journalists. Within this outrage and public attention on their theft, the group announced their upcoming performance The First Fall of the European Wall.

The performance dramaturgy was, thus, one that stretches the performative event in terms of time and presence—the eventization can be understood as having already occurred through its announcement in the social media and press coverage of this announcement. Here, the complexity of issues, such as the notions of spectatorship and presence, the theatricality of social media, the diversity of involved and/or addressed audiences, becomes intelligible. By applying Christopher Balme’s research on theatrical spheres and distributed aesthetics,[24] it becomes evident how the Centre for Political Beauty not only depict themselves as carrying forward the broadly referenced and internationally well-known works of German performance artist Christoph Schlingensief,[25] but also operate in an unprecedented realm of interventionist performances that interfere with academic theatre discourses about lines of demarcation between the live and the mediated.[26]

While the Centre for Political Beauty addresses state representatives and politicians publicly, the collective’s rhetoric also addresses a wider imaginative audience or different audiences (that include more than the individuals present) with the demand to actually become actively involved. Thus, they assume the unwillingness of the audiences to act while they also assume that they have the capacity and the knowledge to act. This demand can be seen as moral blame rather than positive encouragement. As a result of these aesthetics the spectator seems to become a moralized and anthropological category. The collective’s strategy seems to be one of designing a new human. The Centre for Political Beauty thereby produces an aestheticized moral impetus that they may relate to the nationalist and hegemonic concept of educating German citizens collectively through art and transforming them into new and apparently better humans, in other words, activist humans.[27]

Procession by the Centre for Political Beauty to the Bulgarian-Turkish border.
Procession by the Centre for Political Beauty to the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Credits: Ruben Neugebauer

A Dramaturgy of State(less)ness?

The performance of The First Fall of the European Wall was not financed by any state funding but by public crowd funding and maybe partly by their cooperation with the Maxim Gorki Theater, which must have comprised unpublished and publicly unknown terms. With regard to the complex history of theatre as a nation building and cultural education institution in Germany, and the historically developed linkage between the state and the theatre in terms of funding structures, the repertoire system and politically influenced human resource management, the operating structures of the Centre for Political Beauty seem to be a uniquely nuanced and unprecedented area of institutional dramaturgy within the actual state theatre repertoire system.

The Maxim Gorki state theatre depicts its institutional dramaturgy as the first German post-migrant ensemble and theatre institution, which means that, in terms of ensemble, directors, plays, languages spoken within plays, it aims for actual cultural heterogeneity.[28] Director Shermin Langhoff often takes political stands in current debates and she hosted the Centre for Political Beauty within the Maxim Gorki Theater. The performance started/continued at the theatre’s courtyard, where a red carpet was laid out, a band played and welcoming, introductory statements were given by her as well as Philip Ruch, the public head of the collective. Moreover, Shermin Langhoff stated to the press the theatre’s complicity and cooperation with the collective as follows:

When the wall came down 25 years ago, this was not the result of clever strategic moves by professional politicians. Rather, it was the awakening of civil society. I have thought for a long time that this country’s simple sense of citizenship had died out. Over the last few days, however, the Center for Political Beauty demonstrated that this sense of citizenship can be awakened… There was much debate on unacceptable comparisons and declarations that one (history) had nothing to do with the other (the present). It would be a disaster if that were true. . . . There is a reflex in politics not to see something as art once it goes beyond the limits of the traditional concept of art calling it insane or even criminal. This worries me.[29]

Director Shermin Langhoff and Philip Ruch (Centre for Political Beauty) inside the Maxim Gorki Theatre.
Director Shermin Langhoff and Philip Ruch (Centre for Political Beauty) inside the Maxim Gorki Theatre. Credits: Ruben Neugebauer

The collective describe their relation to the German publicly funded Maxim Gorki Theater as a “romantic attachment” and as “complicity.”[30] Very simply put, according to this partnership and with regard to their infrastructure, the fringe theatre collective Centre for Political Beauty does not perform statelessness—they are very much assigned to parts of state funding and state funded institutions. In the performance of The First Fall of the European Wall, the Centre for Political Beauty addresses the German State as a sovereign entity that does not fulfil its international legal obligation to protect and enact human rights. Thereby, the State is also addressed as one major part of the nation states within the EU that territorially encloses itself from the EU’s outer borders in terms of the Dublin regulation: a contract which prevents the State legally and territorially from guaranteeing asylum to anybody who literally crossed the outer European borders and, therefore, entered another European country first, before German territory. One might even presume that the artists perform very much state-ly, or even specifically perform the German nation State, rather than performing statelessness, when we look at the ways in which the State and state representatives are directly addressed by the performances and the ways in which the State’s intervention in their performances seems to be an essential part of their dramaturgy.[31] Rather than offering space for political dissidence through a postdramatic suspension of representation, the performance re-produces and re-performs the social order itself while pointing at public representatives to address the actor’s obstacles.

Participants of The First Fall of the European Wall boarding the buses that take them to the Turkish-Bulgarian border.
Participants of The First Fall of the European Wall boarding the buses that take them to the Turkish-Bulgarian border.
Credits: Ruben Neugebauer

At the beginning of The First Fall of the European Wall artists, activists and spectators were invited to gather in front of the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin to celebrate the departure and/or to get themselves on two funded buses to travel to the Bulgarian-Turkish border. A ceremonial red carpet marked the way from the theatre building to the buses’ parking lots. Here, Berlin police forces gathered in order to avert “potential danger.” They searched the spectators’ and artists’ suitcases—but, in doing so, they took part in the performance and played a major part in defending the

European Union’s external border… at Gorki Theatre—Germany’s Theatre of the Year 2014: Upon departure, the Federal Police and the Federal Criminal Police Office surrounded the theatre with more than 100 officers. The reason: “You are calling for the commitment of severe crimes. We must therefore initiate measures to avert potential danger!” The police are looking for bolt cutters. Nonetheless, the spectators are free to go on one of the “world’s longest stages” . . . to tear down a new wall 25 years after the first one.[32]

As publicly announced in their marketing campaign, on November 7, 2015, two charter buses drove from the front yard of the Maxim Gorki Theater, carrying 100 participants with bags and suitcases. Anonymous interviews with participants described the devising process and how they had been selected by the artists to become part of those who were given a seat on one of the buses by means of a random online draw of applications they filled out. Before the departure event they were given a list of things to bring with them, including clothes, food and wire cutters. During the 48-hour-long journey, the participants weren’t given any information about the route, about the action that was going to take place or any clues about their “role” in this intervention.[33] Moreover, according to the interviews, the hired bus drivers were not given breaks from driving and the interviewees felt that this was a serious violation of workers’ rights and extremely challenging to the people who had volunteered for the performance for political reasons. They even mentioned that some participants got frustrated, experienced high levels of exhaustion and felt anxious. Some got angry with the artists who were absent from the bus travel and out of reach of, or contact with, the participants.

Federal Criminal Police Officers that were surrounding the theatre and searching the participants' luggage.
Federal Criminal Police Officers that were surrounding the theatre and searching the participants’ luggage.
Credits: Ruben Neugebauer

Some hours after departure, a Facebook posting of the collective stated that the Serbian police controlled and searched the buses for potentially dangerous weapons at the Serbian-Bulgarian border, but, after a few hours, they let the buses pass, while escorting them with several police operational vehicles that refused permission for the buses to take rest stops. The journalist participant, Sophie Disselhorst, tweeted live from the scene and reported on her experience in a theatre review for the German theatre critics’ platform, nachtkritik.[34] The following description refers to her twitter postings and to other Facebook comments by participants.

Having to wait at the Serbian-Bulgarian border was interpreted by the journalist as being an integral part of the performance, which provoked a news spectacle and a sensation valuable for more press coverage on the performance happenings. The route to Bulgaria did not have to go through Serbia and, therefore, did not have to cross the European border from a logistical perspective. However, this border crossing immediately caused two forced stops at the border and another police search of the bags and buses for dangerous material and weapons, and, moreover, caused several attention-seeking tweets and Facebook postings.

Border crossing from Serbia to Bulgaria in The First Fall of the European Wall.
Border crossing from Serbia to Bulgaria in The First Fall of the European Wall. Credits: Ruben Neugebauer

With regard to the dramaturgy of the performance of The First Fall of the European Wall, we can see how the artists facilitated a journey for a specific national audience from Berlin, across inner-European borders, through Hungary and to Serbia. As aesthetic response, this movement inverts the migration routes of many refugees and stateless persons who seek not only hospitality, but also human rights protection and a residence permit for Germany. While the ones who were moving within the performance as persons with German citizenship and passports, free to travel through the Schengen area, seem to be a potential threat to security outside of the theatre building, migrants are more likely to be confronted by state policing both initially and beyond the moment of arrival. Alison Jeffers describes how stateless, refugee bodies are marked by mobility in a perverse way that is not further addressed through the performance or by the actors of the Centre for Political Beauty:

The “unliveable” zone within which (abject) refugees’ bodies live becomes a kind of no-where, neither home nor not home, maybe beyond home. Citizens, however, use their mobility to mark out the place of home which can be called ‘home’ precisely because it is possible for them to leave it and enter it again with ease. Mobility is what marks the citizen’s body as a body at home, drawing attention to the paradox that it is refugees who are classed as the “mobile subjects” and yet their mobility is severely limited.[35]

Instead of devising with people held in this double-standard in-mobility, instead of collaborating with migrants as part of the devising process of the performance, the limitation and restriction of mobility becomes part of the artists’ movements themselves; artists who chose and reclaimed specific routes and inner-European borders as sites to address transnational issues of migration and refugees. However, in doing so, their dramaturgy underlines and foregrounds how we are celebrating the arrival or denouncing the failed arrival which—as Marilena Zaroulia puts it “potentially renders the migrant journey, the perilous crossing a game for our imaginaries.”[36] What is at stake here are the “moralizing and politicizing modes of arrival”, and further, the in-limbo transitional zone in between this arrival and the State’s legitimization of the ones arrived as rights bearing citizens.

The Centre for Political Beauty renders the arrival as a physical obstacle and material threshold comprising barbed wire fences that may only be torn down and broken by citizens mobilized for action through the artists. Thus, The First Fall of the European Wall rather coerces refugees into already restrictive agencies by re-enacting the category of statelessness as always already entangled with the performing of the State and the performance of Other’s and our national and genealogical belonging.

Participants' encounter with Bulgarian police forces at the Turkish-Bulgarian border.
Participants’ encounter with Bulgarian police forces at the Turkish-Bulgarian border. Credits: Ruben Neugebauer

On their border crossings in and out of Europe, the artists and their chosen audience contest their own right to free passage as European citizens, and their movements become policed and turned into potentially chargeable crimes. However, this transnational performance of procession redefines terms of interaction between bodies and state power on a very different scale from the actual event of migration. These German artists and their audiences are at no time in between communities or actual border crossers. They are at all times within the genealogical space of their nation. For they are not stateless and do not experience how citizenship and class determine whose bodies are caught in political and economic stasis, and thus who is unable to reach beyond this “body.”[37] Drawing on Emma Cox’s notion of processional aesthetics,[38] this performance signals a way of seeing the objectification and figurization of “refugees within a symbolic framework, politically produced by structural conditions that are currently ad-hoc European Union biopolitics and a fragmenting Schengen Treaty”.

A binary and double thinking dramaturgy of state(less)ness was created by the Centre for Political Beauty, on the one hand, calling for public dissidence from a morally superior audience against the states’ failure to enact the human rights relating to asylum; and, on the other hand, creating a platform for the state to re-enact its role within an ethically questionable German social order. Thus, when state-ness is performed through the presence of police as complicit agents, the performance then confuses its representation of statelessness by not reaching beyond the legal category of citizenship.

The one-time procession in The First Fall of the European Wall offers a quick solution that questions the actual system of migrating into the EU. Without attempting to pit journalistic news against artistic practice, the performance seems to merely add to our “daily spectacle of refugees in motion.”[39] Furthermore, other than people suffering within and from migration movements, the actors of the Centre for Political Beauty deliberately chose to operate within the cultural regimes of visuality and spectacle.

In conclusion, the performative practices and created media spectacle by Centre for Political Beauty cannot plausibly be seen as an interventionist performance. Despite the fact that the artists do blur the line between political action and formal theatre (space), neither they nor their audiences in the realm of their performance become part of a larger collaborative political movement for refugees’ rights where “the voices of refugee activists manifest political expressions and the voices of the theatre team express solidarity with the wider refugee movement.”[40]

As a response to the state-directed enclosing of the EU’s borders in terms of legal regulations as well as militarisation, the Centre for Political Beauty’s performance of The First Fall of the European Wall relies heavily upon the state becoming an intruder within it, an antagonist who is playing its part and role in the form of federal police forces, investigations by the Federal Criminal Police Office, as well as Interpol and its communication about the artists’ passage. This dramaturgical conceptualization, therefore, seems to be built upon the public display of the State, its political performance and regulation processes, rather than being invested in the potential means that border-crossing bodies may find and bring about beyond the narrativization, legislation and classification of migration.

While we are currently facing what seem to be rapid political changes in our supranational community in Europe, I often hear about how timely this research about migration movements is. I want to use these closing remarks to acknowledge this political urgency for responses by artists, audiences, activists and scholars alike. However pressing this urgency to respond, our commitments as politically engaged scholars to care for one another and to contribute to decolonising knowledge also take time to enfold and to ensure rigour. Thus, we collaboratively have to work on, and have to actively engage in, long term social and political consequences that go well beyond the analysis of an assumed exceptional event in crossing borders.


[1] With reference to Holmes and Castañeda, I do not attempt to use the word “refugee” juxtaposed to “migrant” or “asylum seeker” to participate in the discursive framing of the causes of displacement that comprise a moral demarcation of deservingness often interrelating to class, race, and nationality. Other than that, in the following the term is used according to and in reference to the specific artistic framing of their works. (Cf. Heide Castañeda and Seth M. Holmes, “Representing the ‘European refugee crisis’ in Germany and beyond,” American Ethnologist 43 (2016): 5–6).
[2] To name but a few theatre institutions in Germany: The Berliner Festspiele 2015 was assigned the theme of “Refuge and Asylum” and during the festival the collaborators organised fundraising for the benefit of the campaign “My Right Is Your Right.” Since December 2014, the fringe platform Kampnagel in Hamburg provides spaces [Aktionsräume] for refugees to live and to perform in. In early 2015, the European Centre for Arts Dresden Hellerau hosted around twenty asylum seekers in a section of their building; and since September 2015 the state theatre in Dresden offers German language courses and theatre workshops for refugees.
[3] (Accessed 17/07/2016).
[4] (Accessed 17/07/2016).
[5] (Accessed 07/02/2016).
[6] The performance title was translated by the artists from “Flüchtlinge Fressen” to “Eating Refugees.” However, the German term “fressen” could rather be translated as to gorge or to guzzle and refers pejoratively to a dehumanising fashion of eating.
[7] Beyond the ethical quandary that arises around any given term such as the recent prominent one of “more-than-human entity” and beyond the “human” presence in the term, I make use of this figure to attempt an open classification that might otherwise be lost with the employment of terms like “animal.” As developed in feminist research, postcolonial and cultural studies and queer theory, I stress the necessity of further discussions about posthuman ethics in the Centre for Political Beauty’s works which have to go beyond any supremacist idea of a decontextualized, rational and autonomous human personhood.
[8] It is to be noted that beyond the legal entitlement to a right through formal citizenship, there is also arguably a form of citizenship that involves bodily aspects and environmental factors that correlate with the exercising of civil rights. (Cf. Nicolas Rose and Carlos Nova, “Biological Citizenship,” in: Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems, ed. A. Ong and S. Collier (London: Blackwell, 2004): 439–63).
[9] See also Marilena Zaroulia and Emma Cox, “Mare Nostrum, or on Water Matters,” Performance Research 21 (2016): 141–149.
[10] Heide Castañeda and Seth M. Holmes, “Representing the ‘European refugee crisis’ in Germany and beyond,” American Ethnologist 43 (2016): 2.
[11] The European Commission called it the “largest global humanitarian crisis” of our time (ECHO 2015), and German chancellor Angela Merkel referred to it as the defining challenge of this decade (UK Guardian, 15/08/2015). See also: Pola Lehmann and Malisa Zobel, “Die Rede von der Krise,”, 17.05.2016. (Accessed 17.05.2016)
[12] Heide Castañeda and Seth M. Holmes, “Representing the ‘European refugee crisis’ in Germany and beyond,” American Ethnologist 43 (2016): 2.
[13] Armin Nassehi, FAZ, 31/08/2015, translated by the author.
[14] To quote feminist and anticolonialist scholar Astrida Neimanis: “I intentionally interpellate both author and reader into a position of relative privilege in relation to any number of possible others that they might seek to represent; I assume that no one reading this article will be exempt from having to grapple with the ethics of representing others. I also acknowledge that author and reader may differ considerably in the extent to which they inhabit the site of the represented other. ‘We’ is always the most difficult but necessary question.” (Cf. Astrida Neimanis, “No Representation without Colonialisation?”, Somatechnics 5:2 (2015): 135–53, 151)
[15] See e.g. Katrin Sieg, Ethnic Drag. Performing Race, Nation, Sexuality in West Germany (Ann Arbor, Michigan: U. of Michigan P, 2002).
[16] Cf. Alison Jeffers, Refugees, Theatre and Crisis (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 150–16.
[17] Cf. Emma Cox, “Processional Aesthetics” (keynote held at the Crisis, Migration and Performance Symposium, NUI Galway, 11–12/03/2016).
[18] See e.g. Azadeh Sharifi, “Postmigrantisches Theater. Eine neue Agenda für die deutschen Bühnen,” in Theater und Migration, ed. Wolfgang Schneider (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2011), 35–45, and Katrin Sieg, “Race, Guilt and Innocence: Facing Blackfacing in Contemporary German Theater,” German Studies Review 38 (2015): 117–34.
[19] Cf. Evelyn Annuß, “’Fähren statt Frontex’ nach dem ersten europäischen Mauerfal,l” Maske und Kothurn 60 (2014): 8.
[20] (Accessed 13/12/2015).
[21] In her article “’Fähren statt Frontex’ nach dem ersten europäischen Mauerfall,” Evelyn Annuß analyses the aesthetic strategies of these pictures which—from my perspective—demarcate the figure of the refugee as a victimised Other and fashion the ones who take and publish the pictures as ethically questionable agents. However, Annuß interprets the Centre for Political Beauty’s performance as an attempt to reconfigure our understanding of Volk, of the political body of the nation, and open it up beyond “arbitrary” demarcations of us and them. (Cf. Evelyn Annuß, “’Fähren statt Frontex’ nach dem ersten europäischen Mauerfall,”  Maske und Kothurn 60 (2014): 8)
[22] Evelyn Annuß, “’Fähren statt Frontex’ nach dem ersten europäischen Mauerfall,” Maske und Kothurn 60 (2014): 7–17.
[23] Evelyn Annuß, “’Fähren statt Frontex’ nach dem ersten europäischen Mauerfall,” Maske und Kothurn 60 (2014): 7–17.
[24] Cf. Christopher Balme (ed.), “Distribuierte Ästhetik. Performance, Medien und Öffentlichkeit,” in Netzkulturen: kollektiv. kreativ. performativ. (München: epodium, 2010): 41–54, 43.
[25] Cf. Florian Malzacher (ed.), “No Organum to Follow. Possibilities of Political Theatre Today,” in: Not Just a Mirror. Looking for the Political Theatre of Today (Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2015): 16–31.
[26] Cf. Christopher Balme, “Surrogate Stages: Theatre, Performance and the Challenge of New Media,” Performance Research 13:2 (2008): 80–91, 84.
[27] In his analysis of social movements through a theatre studies lens, Aidan Ricketts states how practices of playful political dissent can empower activists insofar as they may transmit a reversal of authority from protester to “protestee” (Aidan Ricketts, “Theatre of Protest. The Magnifying Effects of Theatre in Direct Action,” Journal of Australian Studies 30:89 (2006): 75–87, 80–81) In the case of the Centre for Political Beauty as shown in this paper, the artists and their audience as protesters become also protested by opponents such as German cultural and historic societies, elected politicians, theatre critics, or others, and the discussions published concern about the legitimacy of the artists and their labelling of their actions as “artworks.”
[28] See the closing sentences of the theatre’s mission statement: “We invite you all to a public space in which today’s human condition and our conflict of identity will be reflected through the art of making theatre and watching theatre, in order to contribute to a thorough and patient debate about living together in today’s diverse world.” (Accessed 21/07/2016).
[29] (Accessed 13/12/2015).
[30] (Accessed 17/07/2016).
[31] Cf. Matthias Warstat, “Als ob kein Staat ware,” nachtkritik, 28/05/2014. (Accessed 09/03/2016)
[32] (Accessed 13/12/2015).
[33] Cf. Sophie Disselhorst, “Wer schön sein will, muss leiden?”, nachtkritik, 11/09/2014. (Accessed 13/12/2015)
[34] Cf. Sophie Disselhorst, “Wer schön sein will, muss leiden?”, nachtkritik, 11/09/2014. (Accessed 13/12/2015)
[35] Alison Jeffers, Refugees, Theatre and Crisis (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 64.
[36] Marilena Zaroulia and Emma Cox, “Mare Nostrum, or on Water Matters,” Performance Research 21 (2016): 148.
[37] Cf. Marcela A. Fuentes, “Zooming In and Out: Tactical Media Performance in Transnational Contexts,” in: Performance, Politics, and Activism, ed. John Rouse and Peter Lichtenfels (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2013): 32–55, 44.
[38] Cf. Emma Cox, “Processional Aesthetics” (keynote held at the Crisis, Migration and Performance Symposium, NUI Galway, 11–12/03/2016).
[39] Charlotte McIvor and Jason King, “CFP Crisis, Migration, and Performance Symposium,” 07/10/2015.
[40] Fazila Bhimji, “Collaborations and Performative Agency in Refugee Theater in Germany,” Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies 1 (2015): 11.


*Anika Marschall researches contemporary theatre practices about human rights policies. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow where she teaches theatre and society. Her work has been presented at international conferences and is published in the peer-reviewed journals SYN (Austria) and DIENADEL (Germany), including a forthcoming book chapter about interventionist theatre practices (Transcript, 2017).

Copyright © 2016 Anika Marschall
Critical Stages/Scènes critiques e-ISSN: 2409-7411

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The State at Play? Notions of State(less)ness in Contemporary Interventionist Performances