#9: Final Report

We met the night before, more to dispel the nerves of being strangers than to organize a plan. I felt curiosity and welcome from the other members of our group.

The next day we arrived at the museum and went inside to look at the exhibit. We split up almost immediately, going to different rooms and spending different amounts of time with the displays. I noticed so many levels of resonance between the architecture of the surveillance regime and the architecture and furniture of the building. I walked through the rooms of original objects, photos, and histories, entranced. I loved the details: the listening devices revealed behind doors, the stories of manipulation and betrayal. It was thrilling, unsavoury, and felt totally unrelated to our current political condition, which, given the circumstances, was a glorious relief.


The museum took care to demonstrate how thoroughly they had studied the DDR spy organization’s cadaver, everything displayed in such a way as to promise that we had conquered this regime.  Drawers opened, compartments laid bare for the spectator’s gaze. This museum offered a careful simulacra of the DDR surveillance fantasy and fetish. It was like a haunted house: all the elements were designed to provoke a memory that visitors had only experienced by way of cinema: a sense of voyeuristic horror, authenticity without the risk of danger.


As we took lunch we discussed these properties of looking and the deliberate openness with which the museum conducted its affairs. One of us recounted that she had accidentally even entered the admission-ticket kiosk and stood behind the man taking money. We discussed some courses of potential actions to go forth.

On my return I began copying excerpts from the didactic texts, both in English and German, which described particular instances of penetration, border crossing, intrusiveness, or invasion. I copied these texts onto tiny index cards. Beginning with the cloak room, where people were invited to leave their coats and bags unattended, I slipped these cards into coat-pockets, backpacks, and suitcases. It was terrifying. I then hovered around the outskirts of a tour group as the guide spoke about the complete control exercised by the regime. I approached people whose coats were trailing in their arms or those who didn’t have anyone standing behind them. I began slipping cards into pockets as people walked by, hunting unsuspecting visitors. My disguise as a visitor frayed and slipped. I began only looking for vulnerable points of access – easy pockets, open bags. Some people felt me approach and pulled away as I encroached on their personal space. It was difficult to appear to be looking at the display while my arms were pursuing another task and my whole body was racing with adrenaline. At a certain point I became completely exhausted. I joined others on the top level sitting in the largest room as they wrote. Things naturally wound down, and we ran out of energy. As we left I took a photograph of the Lenin statue holding ground in the front foyer, his hand majestically slipped inside his coat pocket.


Photos: JS

#9: Final Report

They came before I was open, standing outside my door but inside my protective wall. They took photos of my door. I watched them.

When my doors were unlocked, one of them bought tickets at the entrance. They were polite but I could see that they were watching me in a way that was different from the normal visitors. Looking for gaps and seams, looking at how I was prepared to be shown.

They moved through me like all the others, reading, taking some notes, taking some photos and making some sketches. They paid careful attention to the ways I was left unguarded.

They moved around more boldly, looking now at my employees and the other visitors with the same examining gaze. I wasn’t sure how I felt about them, but all I could do was watch.

When they left, I was relieved. But then they came back.

They stood near a tour that passed through me every weekend. A large and passive group. The group stood around listening while loaded up with bags, coats and cameras. I have a public coat-check, but most tourists are too careful to let their things remain unguarded in my cloakroom. These visitors stayed on the outskirts of the tour, watching, taking notes, and occasionally penetrating the group or abandoning it mid-history. They were only pretending to be interested – they were looking for other things.

They began doing things to me. Standing inside my hidden compartments, waiting in the dark, watching. Holding positions that had been previously mine. I felt, what? Exposed? Vulnerable? Violated? They brought a buzzing tension, a level of curiosity, tenderness, but also invasiveness, despite its subtle restraint. I remember when my compartments were used this way before, but I was built for this type of watching, and I am familiar with it, it’s all I know. But in the many years since that time, I have shed many layers of protection, and was not prepared for this coordinated trespass. I accept that I must be looked at, but I also determine what I show and how I show it. These outsiders wanted to get inside me and reconstruct who watched whom and for what purpose. I was disturbed.

Finally they tired of their game, took a few more photos of my Lenins and light fixtures. Then, mercifully, they left. I waited until they were safely out of sight, and then exhaled.

#9: A Stage Set For Secrets

The former Stasi headquarters is now a museum. The highest seat in a system of oppression en secrecy became a place that openly informs on it’s own painful history. It is a place that turned on its axis. From secretly gathering input to openly sharing output.
This was the setting for our group of performers who made their works unbeknownst to anyone else. An opposing move, where the performances are internal processes. Output as a means to gather input. Acting as a means of observing.

Walking around in the museum this contrast between our movements and the intentions of the museum where very clear. This place with its history entices a sense of paranoia. You cannot believe you are not being watched. Yet guards did not walk through the rooms to check that nothing was touched. There where no cameras (to be seen?). But the feeling is still there. The mystery of this place lies in that it tries to get rid of all the mystery.

So I started by disguising myself as an undercover guard. I had no name tag, no uniform, but I carried around a newspaper. No visitor carries a newspaper around in a museum. You would only do so if you are not there for the exhibition. As I was walking though the rooms observing people, they noticed me looking at them but of course asked no questions. They where just aware of me there.
At the same time I wanted to have something to guard Something to hide. I wasn’t just watching the visitors of the museum – they where also watching me. So I cut eyeholes in my newspaper that I had to cover with my body when people looked at me. At moments when I was sure nobody was looking at me I took pictures of the spaces through the eyeholes in the paper.



Then I went to the bathroom and locked myself in a stall. On my phone I tuned in to Russian talk radio that I played on low volume. Every time people entered the bathroom there was a moment of silence – of listening. I imagine people asked themselves if this was still part of the exhibition. If the Stasi museum had a flair for the theatrical. This moment of hesitation that feeds the fantasy.

For a last performance I decided to try and communicate a message. I looked up the words ‘hello’, ‘help’ and ‘stop’ in morse code. Then I repeatedly signaled one of these words to one of the visitors by chewing loudly on my gum. The result was of course unclear. The rhythm in the repetition was very distinctive, and the signal could have potentialy been understood, but it was overshadowed by its annoying form. It is very hard to communicate with people when they are actively trying to get away from you. 

 Photos: HO

#9: Unofficial Collaborators

I take notes and record what I hear; a clipboard in my hand, paper, carbon paper: ‘ … Haus 1, Haus 7 … 16 Million, traumatizing, traumatized, memory, language of difference, massive, disoriented, unimaginable, hide, watchmen, to leave, reception, psychology, psychological, disappear, organizing you, contest, humiliation, prison to prison, decency, dictator, difficulty, risk, surveillance, deviant, hostile dissident, betrayer, unofficial collaborators, armed organs …’I overhear a Grandfather speaking to a young man, speaking of a time when he was there. What he directly experienced we see in records and numbers, graphs and recordings, photos, an inundation of summaries and calculations, disembodied knowledge.

ewh_01  ewh_02

To hide – with you … the two of us whispering in the closet … I watch out of a crack in the doors … watch as people walk by … you and I … hearts all a flutter … your anxiety and fatigue and my …

Where and when I can, I hide … mostly in closets, they are the only place big enough to contain … I, hidden from, giddy with excitement, anxious to be found … out … into … these people, those … that I can hear, softly stepping through the museum, find me, their shock – jump back, run … away … hide … from … me … but, they don’t tell.

I am thankful to them – to those, who, do not tell.
It is dark humour to play with trauma, but it is one way to befriend a many-headed monster.

ewh_03  ewh_04


ewh_05   ewh_06

I analyse my text with symbols found in the museum. I assign meaning and movement. A score remains, a chorography for movement, a series of movements; invisible, subtle, hidden from view, hidden amidst the tourists, and us, the performers, from one another.

A secret, a whisper, a subtle gesture, empathy and lack, humility and grace … I offer you this performance, even – despite, the fact that you do not – cannot, see.

ewh_07   ewh_08

A colleague joins me and wants to make his own written text; five symbols, an analysis, and a score hidden beneath. He leaves it with me. I could perform it – hidden amidst – I could try …

ewh_09   ewh_10


Photos: EWH, FvL

#9: Room That Does Not Care

I followed the slow steps of an older attendant through the many rooms of the third floor. In his hands he carried a soft cloth and a bottle of detergent. He polished the glass coffee tables that nobody had used for so many years.
He also gently wiped the bronze face of Karl Marx. I noticed a warm affection in his gestures. It was not clear to me if this affection was for the bronze head as a museum artefact, or for the person that is represented by the head.
Every object in this museum is part of the personal history of many people.

Earlier this morning I visited all floors of the museum. I studied the exhibited materials, read many texts.
I noticed that visitors frequently returned to rooms they visited before, like scrolling back in a book to read over some sentences again. And so did I. When I stumbled across a person for a second or a third time I nodded as if we met a long time ago. A distant memory. Sometimes I got a response, sometimes not.

In my little black book I made notes of people studying the exhibit. I wrote down how they were dressed, what they were looking at, what other persons they spoke to. I realised that I was exactly copying the behaviour the museum presentation was about. Writing these notes illustrated the subject of study of the visitors. I added a dimension of live performance to their perceptions. And at the same time they were my subjects of study, it worked in two directions.
Sometimes the atmosphere became too uneasy. When my writing clearly bothered them, I stopped, left and started again in another room.


I entered the quarters of Erich Mielke: Room that does not care*.
There was hardly any textual information. Just the room and it’s furniture to impress the visitors.  I looked for any sign of personal taste. I remember that some years ago a copy of the dead mask of Lenin was lying on this desk. It was taken away now, his desk was empty. In the office there was a diagram with the exact rules of M’s breakfast, drawn by the secretary.

I asked the attendant if I could have a quick look in M’s personal bathroom, officially closed to the public. I went inside and I perceived the aged traces of use. I made a photo of the window that showed the world outside in a blur, as M will probably have noticed and reflected on, sitting on his toilet bowl.


One floor down: Many records of witnesses and informers, their photo’s were blurred by sheets of opal perspex.
When I pushed away the perspex the photo appeared, still with blurred eyes, the name in the text was made up: Martha Köhler, Arbeiterin, Zwickau/Ost-Berlin, 1960,
Her useful quality: Lernte schnell Menschen aus allen Schichten kennen!

* The day before ParallelShow#9 I saw again the great work Room With My Soul Left Out, Room That Does not Care by Bruce Nauman (Hamburger Bahnhof). I borrowed part of the title because it fits so perfectly.

Photos: FvL

#9: In Between Conflicts

We visited the Hamburger Bahnhof Contemporary museum in Berlin the day before. It was the 20th anniversary of the museum and the amount of visitors was enormous. The atmosphere was different on this day, and the visitors were invading the space more then normally. The day after in the Stasi museum, while wandering trough the exhibition space, it also felt as though there was a different atmosphere then normal in the museum. Visitors were withdrawn, personally engaged and aware of each other’s private space.


In the Hamburger Bahnhof I had enjoyed watching a little girl who was rearranging the exhibition, it was very colorful and free. The atmosphere in the Stasi Museum was in contrast to this. There I was confronted with evidence of the abuse of the playfulness of children, till such a point that war would become normal in their daily lives. Taking in this information of a controlled life, the pressure and secrecy, I got a feeling of wanting to do something prohibited. But this revealed a conflict, the guards were really friendly and helpful, so this would not make any sense. Normally I work more with creating sculptural images and bodily-related actions rather than working conceptually, so what to do in space that had so much conceptual content?

After visiting the toilet a few times, I decided to write down words I encountered that spoke to me and hide them in the museum. I hid them in different spots to give words to the layers in between this loaded space. I hid 11 notes.


For some weeks after the wall came down many Stasi staff remained in their offices, trying to destroy evidence that could land them in jail or expose their spies in foreign countries. In the Stasi museum is a paper shredder that they used for this purpose. The recovery of these files by volunteers as evidence of crimes was an opportunity to do something to get the Stasi punished for their crimes, and for the victims to mourn.

This historical event inspired me to recover my notes and destroy them, to cut them into little pieces. I made several rounds amongst my papers and came to the conclusion that some got lost and some were moved. In between I had a need for retrieving myself so I hid myself in a small corridor that could be locked from both sides. Here I found that I could be with myself within these layers of history while listening to the visitors walking by. I became a witness rather than a participating museum visitor. Here I also destroyed my papers. The smell of this building is the most consistent factor for me; a mixture of the waxed floor, metal, paper files, laminated wood, typewriters and lots and lots of smoke. It is a smell that I recognize from being in offices throughout my childhood.

After going trough my pieces of paper I came to the conclusion that I had lost 4 papers with the following words:


So I conclude, ‘The betrayer is processing psychological harassment and is now hostile to socialism as a conclusion.’


Photos/video: JJ