Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage



The term “witness” defines “both to the action and to the person involved in the action of seeing or knowing by personal presence something. According to Giorgio Agambem, there are two words for  “witness’”  in classic latin:  testis, “from which our word “testinony” derives, etymolorically signifies the person who in a trial or lawsuit between two rival parties, is in the position of a third party (*terstis); and superstes, designating “a person who has lived through something, who has experienced an event from beginning to an end and can therefore bear witness to it. “

For Michael Richardson & Kerstin Schankweiler,  to bear witness means “not only giving an account of this experience and making the incident accessible to others, but also entails affecting and being affected”. They refer to witnessing as a process where political and ethical considerations of a specific event are built.

Appealing to autentithity and immersion, historical reenactments play with the role of the audience as witness of the actual historical fact.
In the context of arts and performance, Inke Arns refered to the perceptions of witnessing and participation within historical reenactments, where “becoming witnesses of an (obviously mediated because repeated) event, which is normally only accessible as an event communicated by media”  intensified the engagement of the audience in the restating, and therefore the ways in which it was affected by it. As marked by Michael Richardson & Kerstin Schankweile, many scholars have questioned the distinction between witness and spectator, specially complicated in a context of “mediatised encounters with suffering that drastically limit the capacity for action”. (Lilie Chouliaraki, 2006; Luc Boltanski, 1999; Wendy Kozol 2014). In fact, the levels of mediatization on  experiencing the witnessed event are fundamental to clarify the credibility of the testimony.

According to Jacques Derrida “one must oneself be present, raise one’s hand, speak in the first person and in the present, and one must do this in order to testify to a present”. For him  “Ocular, auditory, tactile, any sensory perception of the witness must be an experience (…). When I commit myself to speaking the truth, I commit myself to repeating the same thing, an instant later, two instants later, the next day, and for eternity, in a certain way. But this repetition carries the instant outside of itself. “

Reenactments are in other terms also common procedures on trials and legal cases where witnesses and perpetuators are requested to physically re-enact what they have witnessed. Reenactments become  acts of mimesis conducted to convince others regarding the veracity of a particular theory.

︎︎︎Agamben, Giorgio. 1999. Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive. New York: Zone Books.

︎︎︎Art documents - inke arns - history will repeat itself: Strategies of re-enactment in contemporary (media) art and performance
. agora8. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2022, from https://agora8.org/InkeArns_HistoryWill%20Repeat/

︎︎︎Boltanski, L. (1999). Distant suffering: morality, media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

︎︎︎Blanchot, Maurice, Elizabeth Rottenberg, and Jacques Derrida. 2000. The Instant of My Death. Meridian. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

︎︎︎Chouliaraki, L. (2006). The spectatorship of suffering. London: Sage.

︎︎︎Kozol, W. (2014). Distant wars visible: The ambivalence of witnessing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

︎︎︎Richardson, Michael, and Kerstin Schankweiler. 2020. ‘Introduction: Affective Witnessing as Theory and Practice’. Parallax 26 (3): 235–53. https://doi.org/10.1080/13534645.2021.1883301.


︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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