54th Venice Biennale 2011

In January 2010 the curatorial team of THE 2ND ROMA PAVILION – CALL THE WITNESS announced an open call for artists and researchers to submit proposals for the Second Roma/Gypsy Pavilion which will be realized within the framework of the 54th International Art Exhibition – Venice Biennale 2011.

Ten artists or group of artists, repectively, were choosen from the numerous applicants. Among others, Lidija Mirkovic, Nils Kemmerling, Dzoni Sichelschmidt, Markus Westphalen and others had submitted a proposal named HEARING OF and were invited to present and discuss their application at a working meeting which took place on the 23rd and 24th of May 2010.

Our Proposal: Video Installation HEARING OF by Lidija Mirkovic, Nils Kemmerling, Dzoni Sichelschmidt, Markus Westphalen et al.


Since the contest of systems 1989 was decided in favour of the Western social order, Roma as Europe's largest ethnic group have least benefited from the transitions, consolidations, and the increase in democracy and democratic values. The exclusion from the majority-based society and the misery in which most Roma live do still exist.

Moreover, Roma now more frequently become victims of racist attacks, discrimination, or even of political-legal measures of democratic states. Even worse, pogrom-like excesses and obviously racist-motivated murders of Roma add a new negative quality to the situation in which they live. All these incidents are addressed by the media and made known to the public, but a general social outrage or specific political actions are lacking. Artistic examination of the subject, by Roma or non-Roma, is also almost completely absent.

Project Idea

On the occasion of her first office anniversary in 2009, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, made a speech in front of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in which she qualified the situation of the Roma in Europe as fatal and condemned the discrimination against Roma in 17 European countries. She directly addressed the disadvantage to and endangering of Roma in Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Slovenia and Sweden.

We want to take exactly this situation of the Roma as theme for our installation "Gypsyland", which is situated in the space between documentation and fiction.

The filming is done in the previously mentioned 17 countries. In each of the countries only one "crime scene" is cinematically documented for the time being, and the statements of the eye witnesses, Roma as well as non-Roma, are filmed in ever similar picture sections.

The place itself can give little information about past events, and the protagonists each describe the event(s) from their particular point of view. The accuracy of their accounts stays unexamined and uncommented, so that the recipients ultimately have to decide themselves which opinion they take about the event. Instead of a linear story, the narrative structure is reduced to sequences which are projected onto several screens across a dark room and so actively involve the observer in the narrative arrangement.


The walk-in video installation forms a "room-in-a-room-situation" within the exhibition hall and can be seen as a two-part work. The dimensions are variable and depend on the overall size of the exhibition space.


Passing through a light-lock, the visitor enters the inside of the room that is completely black. Parts of the walls, the complete floor and ceiling are covered with black, sound- and light-absorbing foam rubber. Walking on the soft, lightly sinking floor is not easy, but at the same time it invites one to rest upon it.

On large screens slowly appearing in a previously arranged dramatization are the pictures of several "gypsy crime-scenes" from 17 different countries, and portraits of persons in front of a black background. The places are always photographed using the same light conditions and the same perspective. No people are to be seen. Only a extremely slow slow-motion shows that it is a video picture, and brings it to life. The also always similarly filmed persons slowly dub in and out. They tell in a monotonous voice and without emotion about the places, and about the events connected to the places. There's no clear relation to the places shown.

The narrations are very fragmented, and there are almost only pieces of language to be understood. Occasionally there are English sub-titles and a voice in English translates what is said. A strange feeling of stillness and restlessness fills the room. What are the persons talking about? Are they eye witnesses? What is true, what is false?

As in the outer area of the installation, the visitors on the inside also become actively involved. Depending on where in the room they are, portraits and scenes are blended in and out slower or faster. Stories are interrupted and continued, or nothing happens. The previously arranged dramatization and narrative order is cracked open and subtly influenced. But a clear pattern of influence cannot be recognized and is subliminal. Who influences and who is influenced? Am I active or passive? The visitors, the photographed persons, the places and the almost sacral room become unity. Places become crime scenes and persons culprits. Or none of both?

Hearing of - Inside Inside


The outer walls of the room which seems sculptural are painted with blackboard paint. With white chalk and in different handwritings comments, original quotations and statistic information concerning diverse, world-wide "Roma-incidents" are written upon it. Writing chalk is available, and the visitors of the Roma Pavilion are invited to add their own experiences to the previously preserved and archived recollections, and comment on what they saw and heard inside the room. Passive reception of art becomes active involvement; the visitors participate in the work and become part of it.

In the course of the exhibition the surface of the room will change continuously: Apart from the growing content structure also the physical surface will be altered. Text in different languages will be added, wiped out, crossed through; there will be drawings and alterations. Formal movement and movement of content correspond to the situation of the Roma. Which texts are true, which false?

Hearing of - Outside Outside

For Example: Ill-treatment of Roma adults by police, 2000 in Slovakia, Isolation of gypsy settlements by building metres-high walls in several communities, 2005 and 2009, Gypsies raid food shops, 2004, Massive Nazi attacks involving Ku-Klux-Klan methods, several death victims, Ill-treatment of Roma children by police, 2009; according to commentators reminding of Abu Ghraib

Note: This concept is a project draft in progress. According to the focusing and the roam conditions of the Roma Pavilion and the available budget it will be adjusted and worked out. This would happen after close consulting to the curators in the next step.

Copyright 2010 by the authors

Email of Curatorial Team Call the wittnes – 2nd Roma Pavilion

Dear Lidija Mirkovic and Dzoni Sichelschmidt,

First of all we want to cordially thank you for submitting your work to the open call for the 2nd Roma Pavilion – Call the Witness, which will be presented in Venice in 2011.

We are happy to inform you that your proposal is among the shortlisted for the Belgrade meeting. We find your work is of high quality and importance and we would be glad if you accept our invitation to take part in the meeting of the most promising contributors in Belgrade.

The selection of the arrived proposals was a really challenging task, taking into account that we've received more than 80 proposals of high professional standards and achievements that were also closely related to our conceptual interests and the theme of the artist - witness.

The final decision of the Collaborative Curatorial Team was made according to the criteria agreed among the curators:

- the Roma background of the artists,
- the quality and contextual relation of the proposal to our concept,
- the conceptual use of the medium,
- the available space.

The meeting in Belgrade will be held 23.-25. May 2010, your travel costs and accommodation will be covered from our side.

During the meeting the artists and other contributors will present their work. There will be time for short presentations and for informal exchange of ideas. Also the curatorial team will introduce their ideas and concept for the Call the Witness Project at the Venice Biennial.

In parallel the proposals of the artists will be discussed individually with the aim to agree about the conditions for the realization of the projects.

Please let us know if you accept our invitation and if you are able to participate in the meeting.

We look forward to hearing from you in the near future,

Best wishes,


Collaborative Curatorial Team
Call the Witness
2nd Roma Pavilion

Note: This concept will not be realised in the context of the 54th Venice Biennale.