Exhibition Review – Tim Renders at STROOM

Each year, Sven Lütticken teaches a MA course on Art Criticism, in which the students learn how to write critical responses to current exhibitions. This year vuartandculture would like share one of their reviews with you. This one is written by Tim Renders.

Bringing The Congo Tribunal to The Hague Tribunal’s Doorstep210_38304_webVOOR_syith_congo_A6
Milo Rau: The Congo Tribunal

Swiss director Milo Rau raises a very important question with his feature film The Congo Tribunal: why is the International Court in The Hague so selective in their case choices? The film and the exhibition at Stroom in The Hague show the horrors that have been taking place for many decades in The Democratic Republic of Congo. War, genocide, rape, exploitation, and living in constant fear are part of the daily life for many Congolese. The exhibition is part of Stroom’s long-term programme See You in The Hague, which focuses on The Hague as the International City of Peace and Justice. And the exhibition fits very well within this programme as it offers an interesting critique of the political and economic selectivity of the International Court in The Hague.

The Congo Tribunal delivers an insight in the importance that an International Tribunal can have for the future of Congo by investigating the causes and backgrounds of the global conflict that is being fought out in Congo for many years now. The country was involved in the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and has been in a state of war ever since, with more than six million deaths so far. After the Rwandan genocide the fight over political dominance continued dividing the country. But the main reason for the continuation of the war in the past decade or so has been the influence of global economic forces. Big international companies have used the political instability, and even actively fostered it, to pillage Congo of its rich resources of raw materials. Congo is a literal goldmine for the tech industry with its abundance of gold, diamonds, cobalt, and other materials that are being used for the manufacturing of smartphones, computers, and other new forms of technology. Milo Rau used the term ‘war economy’ on several occasions to refer to the profits that are being made by big international companies and even NGOs because of the instable war situation Congo is in.
Milo Rau’s project on Congo is a transmedia artwork that consists of the feature film The Congo Tribunal, which shows parts of the performed tribunal hearings in Bukavu and Berlin, a book, and the exhibition at Stroom, which contains of a VR-installation (pictured above), a web game, a digital archive, a short documentary on the impact of the full feature film, the full length recordings of the hearings, and some reading materials and props from the hearings. The main parts of the project, however, are the performed civil hearings in both Congo and Berlin, with Congo being the place of conflict and Berlin being the place where Otto von Bismarck organized the West Africa Conference in 1884 to regulate European colonization and trade in Africa. The film shows a montage of these hearings in a feature film length, making the story both powerful and manageable for the audience.

But the film is not a part of the exhibition at Stroom, although it has been shown during certain events in The Hague. And without the film the exhibition is quite a challenge, unless you like digging through digital archives or watching the full 26hrs of the hearings. The film just offers the information that you want from the project in an easy to watch length, and without this information the exhibition feels like parts of a puzzle. The VR installation and the web game are both beautifully made on the basis of the illustrations of Congolese artist Kayene, they tell the story of the anonymous witness J and illustrate the horrors that he has witnessed. The VR installation takes you from his memory of the incident to his testimony in the hearings within a couple of minutes, and this is quite a immersive experience, if you have seen the film. Without the background information the VR installation can be quite an alienating experience with its black and white illustrations and fast pace. The same goes for the web game that is available for the public to play on a computer. The game feels a bit dark and unable to beat, which is exactly the point but not everyone will realise as the story of witness J remains mostly untold in the exhibition.

But maybe the exhibition should not be regarded as an independent part of the project, but rather as an extension of Milo Rau’s goal, a very important extension that is. The location, Stroom in The Hague, is no coincidence of course. The civil hearings performed in Bubavu and Berlin are in no case official and should be regarded as a call upon the official court in The Hague to revaluate their selection process. Why are some international crimes against humanity being neglected while other incidents are being investigated? A slogan that has become part of the exhibition’s programme is: “Where politics fail, only art can help.” And Milo Rau certainly tries to help here, but he might not get far without any political help. If ‘The Hague’ decides to ignore Milo Rau’s project, then how much has it helped the people of Congo? Therefore the exhibition takes an important place in the project, to shove the horrors of global economical exploitation under the noses of the politicians in the City of Peace and Justice.


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