Debating Chamber

Sam Parfitt, November 16, 2021,  KW,  4th Floor

People slowly arrive. Everyone’s wearing a mask. There are refreshments at one corner of the room, by the stairs leading down through the gallery, across its four floors. Most people are arriving from the elevator on the other side of the room, removing their coats and being greeted by a gallery guard, one of my colleagues. Guests are handed a collection of four slim pamphlets in various colours, bound together with a thin brown paper band. In the centre of the room stands a table in the shape of a liver, divided into numbered segments. It looks like a rudimentary city map, the numbers indicting the different areas of the city. There are some green coloured segments too that look a bit like parks. Black plastic chairs with metal legs are arranged around the table in a circle, interrupted by a white lectern with a microphone on it. Across the table from the lectern stands another tall table, behind which a man wearing a check scarf is seated. There are various spotlights arranged around the table, as well as people with film and still cameras. Off to one side of the central table is a second table, decked out with various objects. Underneath it there are some shelves also that have various objects and artefacts placed on them. In the back corner sits a technician who speaks French. Most people are speaking English. I’m sat to the left of the lectern on one of the same black chairs as form the circle surrounding the table and am typing on a laptop on a small, squat table.

The room has a pitched roof, it’s the top floor of the building.

Two Jenny Holzer light boxes face one another across the table, each attached to a different pillar. It’s just gone three pm and it’s starting to grow a bit quiet. Things are about to begin.

A strange, repeated sound plays on the PA. A man steps up to the lectern to welcome us and remind us that the gallery is state funded. Clementine then welcomes us all to the MMU.

Clémentine reads from a register and people respond to their names being read out. Two women go around with a pair of metal scissors, cutting strands of hair from people’s heads. One of them is wearing a wig. There are probably about thirty people in attendance. Most of the participants are white and over 40.


Clémentine announces that Hiro will be sampling strands of hair in order to make a brush. Clementine wears Chelsea boots with a large platform. She has two large dangly earrings. The event will last around two hours.

She explains the background behind the MMU. It’s about looking at odd collections in Berlin – old ones, private ones, strange ones. For example, the Erika Hoffman. This started before the pandemic but had to be put on hold.

Today’s focus is on prototypes and ominous objects.

When the oppressed become tyrants.

Children are the most cruel of all.

Class structure is as artificial as plastic.

The table shows how to read a sheep’s liver.


Clémentine asks to break down barriers to discourse. It’s not a public performance. Everyone has been invited. She gestures with her hands. Her black gown casts a shadow over me.

She encourages everyone to speak up.

Matthias takes over and explains how the proceedings will unfold. Objects will be brought in one by one and placed on the table, following on from which there will be conversations.

Tu ada, ta cha, akra do, shamash, na-shikoom, shib shamash, ano abish-na, ishta benabehashna, kitam, shubna …

A person in a bronze outfit carries an object to the table and, as she places it down, a description of the object is read out by a third speaker: a silk tie with embroidered dogs; a bottle of red wine labelled ‘SI’; a box by Alison Knowles, two black and white photographs of displays on Africa from the Ethnological Museum, Berlin-Dahlem; a set of engraved forks and spoons for a bridge and groom; an unpronounceable word; a rat trap from the DRC; a Madonna made of plastic from Italian TV; a fresh sheep’s liver; a fir wig, BLESS; a neolithic arrowhead and coccyx bone; miniature concrete reproduction of a section of the Berlin wall; extract from Philip K. Dick novel; wood mould of a head from shaping performance costumes, Nigeria; the term ‘fiction’ as an instrument in law; a conversation between Marcel Broodthaers and his cat; two lightboxes by Jenny Holzer, 1996; an electronic digital clock.

Matthias talks about the table as a map of Manhattan, the objects simply delineating the morphology of the city. He juxtaposes the wine with the virgin Mary, given the association between blood, wine and the eucharist. He also notes how this would create a new town centre and grouping of skyscrapers.

Clémentine intervenes to turn the rat trap on its side, showing how a rat would get stuck trying to get to the food at the end of the tunnel and be unable to turn around.

Another participant tells us about a prototype of theirs, which can be used as a bird house. They say that the object resembles the coloured blocks of another artist.

The lawyer speaks.

Clémentine reminds us that it’s a game and that the idea is that we should never interpret anything in isolation.

Tom reads from the excerpt from The Man in the High Castle, which is about two different lighters that are the same except that one belonged to Roosevelt, and which he was holding when he got assassinated, and the other was just a regular lighter. Of course, the ‘famous’ one was worth a lot more.


Matthias places the head of the plastic virgin Mary in the lamb liver.

A woman talks about how she once suggested an artist put chicken in his shoes and walk around for a day after he asked her about how to heal the wounds of the Holocaust.

One of the members of the MMU talks about his contribution to the museum, a set of coloured cubes. He rolls the cubes across the table: red is the subject, black is language, yellow the arts, blue the world and green materiality.

Daniel, a historian, talks about how objects elicit or draw themselves towards words. He notices that a lot of objects are from the 70s or 90s. In a way, the liver is the least time bound object on the table.


A man with a black and white polka dot scarf asks us whether or not the cubes could be rolled and that getting a red one could mean that he could eat the liver with a glass of red wine.

Clémentine invites us to take a break and that we might move things on the table in the meantime. Please don’t feel like you’re only watching something, you’re part of it also, she reminds us.


The sound is played three times again.

It’s getting dark, there are children playing outside. I’m dealing with a former lover posting shit about me online. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. My phone keeps going off. I refuse to intervene, I won’t give him any more attention.

Someone gets up and attempts to pronounce the unpronounceable word. He takes the page to the podium and makes ssss and zzzz sounds, then gargling sounds. It’s a long word, more of a poem. It ends quite dramatically, almost like an orgasm. Guests are then invited to throw whatever is in their pockets on the table. Suddenly, the table is littered with used tissues, cigarette packets and train tickets.

How to approach the table? The aura is not so much in the object as in the way in which you interact with it.

It is suggested to move all the objects to one end of the table. Suddenly, the wig, wine and Mary are all congregated together, at the far enough the table. Callum wants to take the liver out of the dish and onto the table, placing it on 30 and 24.

The wine is taken off the table and placed on the table. The hairbrush is dangerously close to the liver. People are gesticulating wildly around the table; tensions are running high.

Apparently, the liver comes from an organic source.

Maps and Dreams, a book from an anthropologist, talks about an anthropologists’ time living with First Nations people, after he was asked to go there in the wake of a new oil pipeline.

What is language and what is an object? Can we as actors become open to the point where we don’t matter anymore?

Do these objects play with us?

It’s important to use artefacts that don’t have stories behind them or that resist authorship as well as those with named and well-chronicled histories.

One of the participants is a family therapist and doesn’t understand what’s going on.

Leon says there were three disruptive moments: the liver being spilled on the table, the Madonna being held face down in the liver and the unpronounceable poem. He proposed a vote on them and tried to find the most disruptive.

The wooden lasts are a prototype, like the hat stand. They’re both intermediaries.

This kind of performance is meant to be part of an exhibition, not a standalone performance. Or perhaps it’s a three-month performance?

I was called on to comment on the proceedings and was asked how I went about writing about what was going on.

In this terrible period we’re going through we need to sit around talk together.

A bowl is brought to the table. It is filled with water and a poem is read out over it before some oil is poured into it by one of the participants. The poem was in a language I didn’t understand.

A round of applause. The sound is played again and people gather around the table one last time, before heading downstairs for a drink.