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The Dead are Coming

Every day, hundreds of migrants die at Europe’s aggressively sealed-off borders. These borders are the world’s deadliest. Year after year, thousands of people die trying to cross them. The victims of this cordon sanitaire are buried in masses in the hinterland of Southern European states. They have no names. No-one looks for their relatives. No-one brings them flowers.

The Center for Political Beauty took these dead immigrants from the EU’s external borders right to the heart of Europe’s mechanism of defense: to the German capital. Those who died of thirst or hunger at our borders on their way to a new life, were thus able to reach the destination of their dreams beyond their death. Together with the victims’ relatives, we opened inhumane graves, identified and exhumed the bodies and brought them to Germany.

“In light of the fact that the victims did not make it to our country alive, the Center for Political Beauty brings us their bodies. We are being confronted with the consequences of what we do or rather what we don’t do. That is the one thing. The other is: the intervention transforms piles of corpses into individuals who lost their lives. It transforms refugees into people. The intervention also affirms our feeling that we are about to commit grave mistakes. We didn’t ask what happened to those who died. The artist are now doing exactly that. In the year 442 BC, a theatre play was staged in Athens. The heroine of the play was a young woman who defied the ruler’s will, the law so to say. He had ordered that Polynikes should not be buried. The play contained a dialogue between two women. One of them says that she shares the outrage at the ruler’s order but that she cannot muster the courage to stage a rebellion against this decision. Antigone replies: ’Use that excuse, if you like, but I indeed will go and heap a tomb for my dearest brother’. She does wrong in order to do right. It is our hope that we will listen to the dead seeing as we ignored their screams while they were still alive“.

Berliner Zeitung

This is how Europe could treat the victims of its aggressive isolation

Against every rule of probability, we exhumed a mother who had drowned on her way to Europe - due to our inaction - and was buried as “unknown“ by the authorities in Sicily. We took her to her loved ones in Germany. We were not allowed to bury her two-year-old child with her. Instead, we managed to free a sixteen-year-old from the shackles of bureaucracy. He had collapsed on the trip of horror on the Mediterranean and his body was confiscated by the authorities for ten weeks in order to get his relatives to testify against their smuggler. We gave these migrants the dignity they deserve. But it was not just about saving their dignity.

  • "The most radical interpretation of Sophocles’ ‘Antigone‘ that we have seen in a while."

  • “Their most spectacular intervention up until now!“

    Der Spiegel
  • “Political pornography!“
    Sonja Zekri, Süddeutsche Zeitung
  • “Their intervention might be horrifying. But even more horrifying is the reality at Europe’s external borders.“

  • “Artists exhume bodies of refugees in Sicily and drive them to Germany under the influence of drugs.“

  • “The debate focuses only on whether or not the CPB’s type of art crosses certain boundaries, in particular the boundary between theatre and reality itself- as if the borders between words matter more than those of Europe itself.“

  • “Breaching taboos and crossing boundaries is the trademark of the CPB which set out to fill the vacuum left behind by artists such as Joseph Beuys and Christoph Schlingensief. Both were pioneers in mobilising the media in the name of art. Up until now, no-one has done a better job of demonstrating the capitalist disparity between first and second class bodies than the Spanish concept artist Santiago Sierra who, for instance, paid Cubans to have lines tattooed on their back. This is the context in which the CPB’s interventions need to be considered: They are, amongst other things, about art.“
    Der Stern
  • “The principle of this type of art is the cynical interaction with reality. In this case, however, the cynicism does not stem from the Berlin-based artist collective but is rather a reflection of the misanthropy of authorities, political decision-makers and of a society that turns a blind eye to this suffering.“
  • "If politicians and their voters cannot find a solution, maybe the problem must be made abstract and topics such as war, flight and death must be staged in a theater play. The Center for Political Beauty has done an impressive job directing this play. They created the pictures that Europe needs to see in order to finally understand that we must take action."

    Der Stern
  • "Should art present solutions or is its role rather to ask questions in order to make the unthinkable thinkable? It is about the search for what is possible, for what seems too good to be true. One example would be a cemetery in front of the German parliament commemorating dead refugees. Another example would be a society that respects the dignity of everyone and not just that of its own citizens.[...] It is not up to art to lead the way in this direction, that would be making politics. And even if the CPB makes politicised art, it still remains art. And art thinks about a goal, not the path towards it." 
    The European
  • “What does it tell us if Europe buries the bodies of those who came here like pieces of dirt? It seems pretty easy to turn a blind eye to this suffering. There are no dead refugees here in Germany. The Center for Political Beauty uses this vacuum for another spectacular intervention. The attention they gained justifies the means. It is not this intervention that is cynical. Cynical are those who have to literally stumble upon bodies to hopefully realise that refugees are not a statistical parameter but people who have a right to our support.“
  • “The choice of the means used is what makes the difference: a human rights organisation would have to provide documents in order to proof the credibility of their claims. A group of performers acts within the realm of the imaginary. The artists are playing with forms of presentation, constructs of reality and exaggeration. And leave nothing left to be desired when it comes to the clarity of their message.“

    Der Stern
  • “Maybe our routine, our getting-used-to pictures of the suffering at Europe’s external borders needs exactly such moments of shock.“
    Süddeutsche Zeitung
  • “It is about breaking with our society’s rituals of conscience, shattering the shell of political rhetorics and countering the modified pictures in newscasts with different images. It is about holding responsible a criminal way of doing politics and asking who is to blame.“

    Süddeutsche Zeitung
  • "For German dramatist Heiner Müller, the most important task of theatre was to excavate the dead ‘again and again’. For him, theatre was a place for evoking the dead: in theatre, those who live are able to meet the dead instead of suppressing them and what was done to them."

    Süddeutsche Zeitung
We invited politicians to the funeral. Members of the government, Secretaries of State and representatives of the Federal Ministry of the Interior were all on the guest list. The seating arrangement was fixed in advance: Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizère with his wife and Chancellor Angela Merkel in the front row. Their eulogies had also been prepared beforehand.


Memorial: To the Unknown Immigrants

In Greece and Italy there is not enough space to bury the vast number of victims of Europe’s war of defense. We wanted to lay the foundations for a cemetery of superlatives in front of the Federal Chancellery: a memorial to the victims of Europe’s aggressive isolation placed underneath an arch that reads “To the Unknown Immigrants“.

Chancellor Merkel, her cabinet and all visitors would have to walk over dead bodies in the most literal sense of the word.
The lawn in front of the parliament turned into an improvised cemetery for the unknown immigrants.
  • “If we look at The Dead are Coming with a bit of distance, we can see a complex picture that German philosopher Walter Benjamin would have loved: through an act of political beauty - the burial - public attention is drawn to the intervention which is then used as a call for people to participate in a March of the Determined. The only purpose of the march is to create a new and stronger symbolism: the decentralised and unorganised digging of symbolic graves all over Germany. It is impossible to reject criticism that the collective was being too pleased with themselves any more clearly. As central as the CPB was in the beginning, as insignificant it now is for their intervention’s continuation. For some days or weeks more graves will appear all over the place - maybe even in the hinterland of Western Pomerania. Seeing as death is sacred, these graves will get draw everyone’s attention - even that of a pensioner in Western Pomerania. When he sees a grave on his local market square, he will be taken out of his daily routine and he will know: People are dying. And there is someone who mourns them. The Center for Political Beauty has created art in the style of Walter Benjamin: dissociated from the artist, inherently bearing in it the possibility for reproduction, politicised art.“
    The European
  • “The March of the Determined“ marks the Center for Political Beauty’s quantum leap: suddenly, the fence came down. It fell slowly, almost in slow motion. And five thousand people turned almost simultaneously in one soft movement, took down the fence and occupied the lawn in front of the German parliament. The proposed memorial took on a new form. Extras had turned into actors. But they continued to stick to the script except for the fact that they now built the memorial themselves. Indecision turned into determination. This magical moment of self-determination was made possible by the CPB’s specific and well-thought out invitation to take part in the performance. The decisive impulse of the day, however, was wisely left to the participants themselves. With the precision of an opera choir, five thousand people decided to take action and created a work of art on the lawn, eternalised by thousands of pictures on the internet. The fence that could not be cut in Bulgaria, came down in Berlin. Participants no longer confronted the Chancellery but - as a more logical consequence - the Parliament, the place where a new approach to refugees must be devised and adopted.“
    Christian Römer, Heinrich Böll Founrdation
  • “We believe that every person killed at the wall of Europe is one too many. After politicians have turned these people into statistics, you have turned these numbers back into people. Thank you.“

    Swen Gerards
  • “With all due respect for humanitarian work: such interventions cross the boundaries of piety.“

    Wolfgang Bosbach, CDU
  • “Making dead refugees the object of an art performance is disconcerting and without regard for piety.“

    Volker Beck, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen
  • “These people don’t flee simply because they feel like it. They are looking for life, life which they themselves were denied. I call on all politicians: these are people who needed our support and continue to need our support now. We must prevent this suffering. We also will drown. This woman drowned in the sea. But we are drowning in injustice, war, hatred, racism and discrimination. But together we are able to rescue ourselves.“
    Imam Abdallah Hajjir
  • “Describing these work of arts as controversial means to compliment them. Debates on such interventions are desirable. Society should be glad that it still has such a potential for protest with which artists can make their art visible.“
    Rupert Neudeck
  • “Those who talk about lack of piety should go to Europe’s external borders.“

    Justus Lenz, Sprecher ZPS
  • “I thought for a long time about what I should think about this intervention. But at the end of the day, it is all about the question: what is more perverse- an art performance that is very close to crossing the limits of taste and piety or the cynicism of the EU’s approach towards refugees which ignores the suffering of thousands of people and willingly accepts their death? The CPB has managed to demonstrate the hypocrisy and double standards of our social values. Why is the dignity of the victims being defended but that of those who are still alive despised?“

    Stefan Helms 
  • “This intervention sheds light on what other people would have preferred to leave in the dark.“

    Frank Becker
  • “I rarely run out of words but this intervention has left me speechless […] and yet I am trying to express my deeply felt speechlessness caused by your political art. I have been tied forever to theatre / art but this project is the strongest and boldest that I have experienced.“

    Marie H.
  • “I am convinced that this intervention is one of the strongest forms of expression of political theatre in recent years, even though the occasion - the death of several thousands of people at Europe’s external borders - is extremely sad.“

    Ralph Fischer
  • “Many would find it extremely comfortable if the bodies would continue to be far far away.“

    Katrin Wohlgemuth