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Forensic Architecture in the Theatre and the Gallery: A Reflection on Counterhegemonic Potentials and Pitfalls of Art Institutions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 June 2022


This article examines the status of counterhegemonic knowledge in art institutions – such as the theatre and the gallery – by analysing Forensic Architecture's investigation into the murder of Halit Yozgat in Germany. We argue for paying close attention to claims about art institutions’ inherent counterhegemonic potential. As evidence, we present a critical experiential account of our visit to Forensic Architecture's gallery exhibition Counter Investigation at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Following this, we discuss how the investigation was presented at the civic tribunal Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen, whose organizers took over and reassembled the municipal theatre Schauspiel Köln in Germany (2017). Drawing on an expert interview, we explore how the tribunal actively positioned itself against the potentially violent structure of the theatre space. Ultimately, our discussion considers the requirements for supportive and effective political alliances by art institutions and thus contributes to the debate in performance studies on institutional critique.

Copyright © International Federation for Theatre Research 2022

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1 See e.g. Weizman, Eyal and Keenan, Thomas, Mengele's Skull: The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetics (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012)Google Scholar; Franke, Anselm and Weizman, Eyal, eds., Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014)Google Scholar; Karakayali, Juliane, Kahveci, Cagri, Liebscher, Doris and Melchers, Carl, eds., NSU-Komplex analysieren (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2016)Google Scholar; Güleç, Ayşe, ‘Vermittlung von Realitäten: The Society of Friends of Halit', Art Education Research, 8, 14 (2018)Google Scholar, at, accessed 27 January 2022.

2 See e.g. Frieze, James, Theatrical Performance and the Forensic Turn: Naked Truth (London: Routledge, 2014)Google Scholar; Önder, Tunay, Umpfenbach, Christine and Martazavi, Azar, eds., Urteile: Ein dokumentarisches Theaterstück über die Opfer des NSU. Mit Texten über alltäglichen und strukturellen Rassismus (Münster: Unrast, 2016)Google Scholar; Nobrega, Onur Suzan, Quent, Matthias and Zipf, Jonas, eds., Rassismus. Macht. Vergessen. Von München über den NSU bis Hanau: Symbolische und materielle Kämpfe entlang rechten Terrors (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2021)Google Scholar.

3 See e.g. Jestrovic, Silvija and Parameswaran, Ameet, eds., Performing Worksites of the Left, special issue of Studies in Theatre and Performance, 39, 3 (2019)Google Scholar.

4 Azadeh Sharifi, ‘Institutioneller und struktureller Rassismus im Theater’, in Önder, Umpfenbach and Martazavi, Urteile, pp. 66–85.

5 This heated debate about the need for German theatre's institutional change and redefinition can be traced since 2007 on the online reviewing platform Nachtkritik. See ‘Dossier zur Stadttheaterdebatte: Die Zukunft des Stadttheaters', Nachtkritik, 2020, at, accessed 27 January 2022. A useful collection of articles on institutional critique in the theatre sector can be found in Elke van Campenhout and Lilia Mestre, eds., Turn, Turtle! Reenacting the Institute, Performing Urgency #2 (Berlin: Alexander Verlag, 2016). See further Liepsch, Elisa, Warner, Julian and Pees, Mathias, eds., Allianzen: Kritische Praxis an weißen Institutionen (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2018)Google Scholar; Balme, Christopher and Fisher, Tony, eds., Theatre Institutions in Crisis: European Perspectives (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2021)Google Scholar; Diesselhorst, Sophie, Hütter, Christiane, Philipp, Elena and Römer, Christian, eds., Theater und Macht: Beobachtungen und Übergang (Berlin: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, 2021)Google Scholar.

6 Grada Kilomba, ‘Wissen sollte gefühlt werden', Hinterland Magazin, 31 (2016), at, accessed 27 January 2022; Fiona Schmidt and Isabella Greif, ‘Die Perspektive der Betroffenen und die staatsanwaltschaftliche Praxis im NSU-Prozess', Bulletin Texte, 45 (Berlin: Zentrum für transdisziplinäre Geschlechterstudien, Humboldt-Universität, 2019), pp. 67–96, at, accessed 27 January 2022. According to German researcher Naika Fouroutan, there are three aspects that are typical of a postmigrant society. (a) The change into a heterogeneous, or ‘immigration' society is officially politically accepted. (b) Emigration and immigration are societally influential phenomena; they are irreversible but subject to discursive negotiations and regulations. (c) Institutional structures are adapted to the requirements of a post-migrant society to allow for equality of opportunity and social mobility. See Naika Fouroutan, ‘Die postmigrantische Gesellschaft', Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2015, at, accessed 27 January 2022. See also Naika Fouroutan, Die postmigrantische Gesellschaft: Ein Versprechen der pluralen Demokratie (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2019). For a discussion on theatre in postmigrant Germany see Azadeh Sharifi, ‘Postmigrantisches Theater: Eine neue Agenda für die deutschen Bühnen', in Wolfgang Schneider, ed., Theater und Migration (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2014), pp. 35–46.

7 Forensic Architecture, at, accessed 27 January 2022.

8 It is being funded through the European Research Council (2011–21) and several major charity foundations: the David and Elaine Potter Foundation (2015–18), the Oak Foundation (2016–19), Open Society Foundations (2018–21) and the Sigrid Rausing Trust (2016–23). Other funding comes from commissions by various organizations and groups on a project basis: from museums that exhibit the agency's work, or from NGOs that the agency partners with, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

9 See Forensic Architecture, ‘Investigations', at, accessed 27 January 2022.

10 In 2014, Forensic Architecture published the first anthology of their work. See Anselm Franke and Eyal Weizman, eds., Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2014).

11 Eyal Weizman, interviewed by Ellen Marca de Wachter, ‘I'd Rather Lose Prizes and Win Cases: An Interview with Eyal Weizman of Turner Prize-Nominated Forensic Architecture', Frieze, 2 May 2018, at, accessed 27 January 2022.

12 The notion of the forensic has been applied, for example, in the field of theatre and performance, especially with a strengthened focus on documentary and verbatim formats in the UK theatre landscape since the beginning of the twenty-first century. While acknowledging the differences between production and creative processes, this particular field broadly shares a dramaturgical structure, which employs multiple points of view through collages of multiple voices, anchored in a central storyline or issue. Here, the hyperrealistic mode of verbatim functions as a source of critical reflection, an alternative to other mass-mediated forms of reportage. On the one hand, answers or solutions are often deferred, as spectators contemplate the manifold views and possible solutions to the issue or story at hand. On the other hand, as Janelle Reinelt has explicated in the case of The Colour of Justice, such theatrical experience equally brings about catharsis and ‘closure’ in the spectators, and Jill Dolan describes this ‘use of performance as a forum for rehearsing the practice of politics’. Jill Dolan, Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005), p. 113. Janelle Reinelt, ‘Toward a Poetics of Theatre and Public Events: In the Case of Stephen Lawrence’, TDR: The Drama Review, 50, 3, (2006), pp. 69–87, here p. 80. See also James Frieze, Theatrical Performance and the Forensic Turn: Naked Truth (London: Routledge, 2014); Rebecca Scott Bray, ‘Rotten Prettiness? The Forensic Aesthetic and Crime as Art', Australian Feminist Law Journal, 40, 1 (2014), pp. 69–95.

13 Zuzanna Dziuban, ‘Introduction: Forensics in the Expanded Field', in Dziuban, ed., Mapping the Forensic Turn: Engagements with Materialities of Mass Death in Holocaust Studies and Beyond (Vienna: New Academic Press, 2017), pp. 7–37, here p. 10.

14 Weizman and Keenan, Mengele's Skull.

15 See Forensic Architecture, ‘Investigations', at, accessed 27 January 2022.

16 See Forensic Architecture, ‘Investigations', at, accessed 27 January 2022.

17 See Forensic Architecture, ‘Investigations', at, accessed 27 January 2022.

18 As the question of human rights takes centre stage in FA's work, the UK's departure from the EU and, consequently, the European Human Rights Act poses new challenges for the agency's geopolitical positioning in the coming decades. However, it is noteworthy that the UK will remain a signatory of the European Court of Human Rights, despite its departure from the EU.

19 See Anika Marschall, ‘To Speak the Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth: About Political Performances of Listening’, Platform, 11, 1 (2017), pp. 67–87, Marschall, Performing Human Rights: Artistic Interventions into European Asylum (London: Routledge, forthcoming).

20 Dziuban, ‘Introduction’, p. 12.

21 Güleç, ‘Vermittlung von Realitäten’.

22 See Eyal Weizmann, lecture given at the Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen, Schauspiel Köln, 18 May 2017, at, accessed 27 January 2022.

23 Annette Ramelsberger, ‘Wir waren ihnen kein Wort wert', Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30 April 2020, at, accessed 27 January 2022.

24 Kaveh Kooroshy, ‘Blick in den Abgrund: Fünf Jahre NSU-Prozess', NDR, 16 May 2018, at,nsuprozess144.html, accessed 27 January 2022.

25 See Juliane Karakayali, Cagri Kahveci, Doris Liebscher and Carl Melchers, eds., NSU-Komplex analysieren (Bielefeld: Transcript, 2016); Juliane Karakayali and Bernd Kasparek, ‘Der NSU-Komplex und das Prozess-Ende im Kontext aktueller Migrationspolitiken', Movements, 4, 2 (2018), at,kasparek--der-nsu-komplex-und-das-prozess-ende-im-kontext-aktueller-migrationspolitiken.pdf, accessed 27 January 2022.

26 From within the NSU trial Schmidt and Greif analyse the intersectional perspective of the victims, who were denied their own ways of telling their stories and lived experience of being discriminated against and racialized. Instead they were marginalized yet again in court, despite understanding themselves as experts. See Schmidt and Greif, ‘Die Perspektive der Betroffenen’, p. 78.

27 Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen, at, accessed 27 January 2022.

28 A brief description of the funders helps to situate the institutional support of the tribunal further. The HAU is an independent theatre in Germany which has a long and outspoken history of supporting sociopolitical theatre. The Gorki Theater and Münchner Kammerspiele are state-funded state and municipal theatres. The former is known internationally as a post-migrant theatre (see also note 6 above), and thus it seems to have a particular institutional interest in supporting the Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen, while the latter, as the city theatre in Munich, is implicated in the trial qua its cultural and geographic proximity to the court. The Rosa-Luxemburg Stiftung is a German parteinahe foundation, which means that its socialist politics and ideology are linked to the left party Die Linke. Its name references one of the leading political figures of the international workers’ movement. The Akademie der Künste der Welt in Cologne is a foundation which finances intercultural contemporary art and culture in the city and one of its particular aims is to support best-practice projects in the field of migration. The foundation was initiated by Bernd M. Scherer, who has been institutionally supporting FA's work in Germany and works with them to open a new branch and location of FA in Germany in the wake of Brexit.

29 In the programme of the Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen, the organizers thank, in addition to the named ones above, the following funders: Berliner Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa, Stadt Köln, Heinrich-Böll Stiftung, Kommunales Integrationszentrum Köln, Amadeu Antonio Stiftung, Antidiskriminierungsstelle des Bundes, AWO Bezirksverband Mittelrhein e.V., GLS Treuhand and ADBs für NRW!. See Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen, Programmheft, 2017, p. 27, at, accessed 27 January 2022.

30 See Weizmann, lecture given at the Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen.

31 To name but a few: Unter Drei directed by Mareike Mikat at the Staatstheater Braunschweig (2013), Der weiße Wolf directed by Lothar Kittstein at the Schauspiel Frankfurt (2013), Rechtsmalerei directed by Jan-Christoph Gockel at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe (2014), Die Lücke directed by Nuran David Kalis at the Schauspiel Köln (2014), Elfriede Jelinek's play Rein Gold (2014), Beate Uwe Uwe Selfie Klick directed by Laura Linnenbaum at the Theater Chemnitz (2016), Das Erbe directed by Ersan Mondtag at the Kammerspiele München (2017), Die NSU Monologe directed by Michael Ruf for the theatre collective Bühne für Menschenrechte (2018), Der NSU Prozess: Die Protokolle performed at the Staatstheater Kassel (2020) and Takdir: Die Anerkennung directed by Ülkü Süngün for Impulse Theater Festival (2021). In 2021, the Kein Schlussstrich! theatre project connected eighteen German municipal and state theatres, festivals and charities, producing around seventy public events, performances and exhibitions.

32 See Ayşe Güleç, online interview with the authors, 19 May 2021, 6–8 p.m. GMT; a record is held in the private archive of the authors.

33 Tribunal NSU-Komplex auflösen, Wir klagen an! (2017), at, accessed 27 January 2022.