Staging the Gaze in Rimini Protokoll's Situation Rooms


  • Melanie Wilmink York University


Contemporary art has seen a significant shift towards new forms of spectatorship; this movement is driven by the proliferation of media technology that seeps into our daily lives and disregards the usual disciplinary boundaries that demarcate traditional artistic forms. Of the many fascinating artworks that have embraced this trend, the German collective Rimini Protokoll exemplifies the intermingling of theatre with forms like documentary cinema and video games through the lens of spectatorship. Within their works, multiple disciplinary contexts operate together: not only art/film or art/performance, or art/new media, but rather art/performance/cinema/new media all sharing the same space, providing complementary and competing ways for viewers to create meaning.   

Rimini Protokoll places spectators at the centre of their work, using the viewer’s body and gaze as an artistic medium. Examining the group’s 2016 production of Situation Rooms at Toronto’s Luminato Festival, this essay interrogates how spectatorship is shaped and deployed as an essential component of the work’s meaning-making. I perform a close reading of how the artists denaturalize spectatorial assumptions that are generated by cultural behaviour conditioning, the ideology of the exhibition venue, the artistic design of aesthetic space, and the viewer’s own experiences. Ultimately, by disrupting assumptions about what it means to be a “spectator,” Rimini Protokoll mobilizes these elements towards a supposedly active and embodied experience of theatre.