Land ohne Worte / Land without Words

mit Aufführungen in u.a. England, Deutschland, Libanon und Palästina zwischen 2009 und 2016

von Dea Loher, übersetzt von David Tushingham

This one-woman drama investigates the role of those watching at a distance in times of war and whether the value of art is obliterated by a brutal reality. A writer struggles to find words for her thoughts and feelings and takes on the role of a painter. The vivid imagery is translated into detailed physical activity in the playing space using materials such as clay,earth, water—the painter’s experiences clearly leave their mark on her.

War meets art in this intimate parable. A painter seeks the perfect image, but in K., a middle eastern city, she experiences the effects of war, violence and poverty, impossible to depict. Now she is forced to confront her lifelong beliefs in the value of art, and how to deal with her position in the world today.

Written by multi-award winning author Dea Loher, recipient of the 2009 Berlin-Award of Literature and the Heiner-Müller-Professorship. A powerful piece of poetic realism from one of Europe’s most original, prolific and challenging voices.

Im Angesicht des Krieges wird Kunst bedeutungslos? Willkürliche Zerstörung von Leben lässt sich nicht in Worten beschreiben? Das Leben weit weg vom Krieg erscheint im Gegensatz dazu falsch? Kunst wird sinnlos?
In Dea Lohers Stück sagt eine Künstlerin aus Deutschland: Man muß den Ort des Krieges besuchen, man muß den Schmerz kennenlernen, man muß das Erlebte zu Hause erzählen. Man muß aber auch weiterarbeiten und sein eigenes Glück genießen. Um in der Bekämpfung des Krieges ein starker Partner zu sein. Eine poetische Selbstbetrachtung und Untersuchung der Möglichkeit des Mensch-Bleibens in Zeiten des Krieges.

Nicht zynisch, aber an den eigenen Mechanismen interessiert, untersucht eine Frau Entwicklung, Sinn und Potential der Kunst. Und dabei, wie eine westliche Künstlerin auf Reise im Kriegsgebiet nach echten Erfahrungen sucht, die in abstrakter Kunst Ausdruck finden, die wiederum dem Betrachter eine konkrete Erfahrung ermöglicht. Aber in der nahöstlichen Stadt K. angekommen, werden die krassen Erfahrungen so abstrakt dass sie keine künstlerische, sondern nur lebendige, reale Auseinandersetzung damit zulassen.

Diese Inszenierung entstand in Edinburgh und London und ist international getourt. Wir nehmen die Arbeit in diesem Frühjahr (2015) in neuer Besetzung und auf Deutsch wieder auf, weil es in der gegenwärtigen Weltlage ausdrückt, was wir anders nicht besser sagen könnten.

Director’s Note

In 2005 Dea Loher was invited to travel to Kabul and work with Afghani writers. She also encountered a war-torn city and its traumatised citizens. Afterwards her medium, language, failed her at first. As language implies meaning she was stalled because in K it seemed life itself had no meaning in the face of all the random deaths within the city and each person’s immediate history. She said later that she felt no artistic activity could assist the maker or the spectator in their dealing with these matters. This resonated strongly with my own questioning.

At the same time Dea Loher felt she had to bear witness so that this reality is not forgotten or brushed aside with the overall sensationalist media language.

To create distance for herself she replaced the medium of language with that of visual art, thus making it valid for all artistic activity. She felt she had to restrict the piece to the inward view of the artist in her context in Europe rather than comment on anything she had seen in the Arabic city. Again these aspects rang true and inspired me to transpose this text onto the stage.

I came across the text when working at the Royal Court in 2009. The theatre is very fond of Loher’s work but when it became clear that they will not be able to programme this piece I asked to obtain the rights and produced it independently. We developed the work in Berlin and premiered it at the Fringe Festival Edinburgh 2009, because we felt it was best to present it to an international audience.

Together with Claire Schirck and Lucy Ellinson I created a plastic, three dimensional, physical life for this lyrical piece. It is art installation and theatre play at once, the performer becomes part of the installation at times, and progessively the materials of the installation take over her body. The underlying dynamic of the text captivated us completely: An artists seeks to create real experiences through abstract work, then she is stalled because she has very abstract experiences in the face of real images.

As well as her artistic theories we visualised the artists expectations of the place, K., she visits, and the process of those expectations being broken down when she is experiencing war there. Back at home the material she brought back invariably mingle with her own—but the combination alters continously in her heart and mind and would not be suitable for a generalised presentation in art.

All she can do in the end is allow the uncomfortable nostalgia, bear the compassion and pain, but also, true to herself carry on being joyful in her own life. These processes are ongoing during my own travels and work in the Arab world.

Lydia Ziemke

Contextual Excerpts

Yes, you can analyse the situation in Afghanistan, you can make it comprehensible, you can hold on to facts and figures, but what lies beneath, that – in my experience – can hardly or can’t be conveyed: the pointlessness. I had feelings of Apathy, helplessness, of rage. But predominant was the feeling of the pointlessness of all human action, the pointlessness of life.
Writing means to be searching for connections, explanantions, hypotheses, sometimes to be seeking the truth that is lost, but this search is valuable when it bounces of reality and opens up space that only exists in language and can expand our reality. The Afghanistan experience was and is so radical for me because on the one hand the real reality was so overwhelming, that it seemed impossible for me to transform it into a piece of fictional literature – which would have been my job – , and on the other hand the pointlessness was so fundamental, that it destroyed any format of writing, – even the attempt‚ only to report. It is, and I can’t describe it otherwise, a pointlessness, that also penetrates words and renders them meaningless.
(from Dea Loher’s Acceptance Speech, Brecht Award 2006)


Our definition of beauty, then, is a certain type of emotional exaltation which is the result of stimulation by certain qualities common to all great works of art. To apply this definition to our notion of plasticity, we may say that the sum total of all plasticity in a painting must be the potentiality for the evocation of a sense of beauty. We have a variety of explanations for the origin and the nature of this abstraction. Psychologists say that beauty evokes a feeling of pleasure. This pleasure is closely connected with our infantile desire for security. Those forms or shapes which we associate with the satisfaction of this desire for security will forever give us that sense of complete satisfaction. In so far as the child’s original notions of security are connected with the form of his mother, the curves and tactile planes in the human body are the origin of this satisfaction. The artist draws on these areas of security when he depicts the human body. The love for these human shapes is then transferred to similar shapes in the world at large.
(From: Mark Rothko, The Artist’s Reality – Philosophies of Art)


»Kein Blut inbegriffen« (von Mounia Maiborg, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11/2016)

»Beyrouth fait sa scène« (Emmanuel Haddad, Le Courrier, 11/2016)

»As a whole, Land Without Words is perfectly knitted together, permanently and wholeheartedly in tune with the aesthetic principles extolled by its protagonist: bodily over beauty. The result is a gripping piece of performance that leaves behind thumping and insoluble conundrums, both ethical and aesthetically.«
(Matt Trueman, Culture Wars, 08/2009)

»Es ist ein ›Kriegsbericht‹, der an die Nieren geht und das nicht zuletzt aufgrund der hervorragenden schauspielerischen Leistung von Lucy Ellinson, die überzeugend ihre Machtlosigkeit und die emotionale Achterbahnfahrt während des Aufenthalts in Kabul darzustellen weiß […]. Nach diesem Stück bleibt keine Chance in ein wohliges, bürgerliches Kunstverständnis zurückzukehren und so zu tun, als ob Gewalt, Elend und Hass keine Denkkategorien mehr für uns seien.« (Michaela Preiner, European Cultural News, 06/2010)

»La mise en scène de Lydia Ziemke de Land Without Words témoigne d’un incroyable humanisme. Dans un puissant monologue, la performer Lucy Ellinson n’hésite pas à se dévoiler et s’oublier elle-même. De manière nouvelle, formes et fonds s’entremêlent ingénieusement. […] Entre présence charnelle, violence des mots et art sculptural, elle nous fait partager sa recherche de la perfection esthétique.« (Laura Adolphe, Mouvement,  06/2010)


Inszenierung: Lydia Ziemke / Spiel: Lucy Ellinson; in der deutschen Wiederaufnahme: Lucie Zelger / Ton & Komposition: Owen Lasch / Bühne & Kostüme: Claire Schirck / Licht: Victor Egea (seit 2010) / Regieassistenz: Nina Eckhardt


08. | 09.11.2016 – 21:00 h
Land without Words
Land without Words The Mansion, Beirut, Vorstellungen

We were honoured to open Zoukak’s international Festival in Lebanon marking the 10th anniversary of the company, created also as a plattform for the Lebanese arts scene to showcase work of theatre and dance.

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22. | 26. | 27. | 28.04.2016 – 18:00 h
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22.04.: Al Harah Theatre, Beit Jala

26.04.: El Hakawati National Theatre of Palestine, Jerusalem

27.04.: Ashtar Theatre, Ramallah

28.04.: Naam Theatre, Hebron

27. | 28. | 29.03.2015 – 20:00 h
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09.05.2015 – 18:00 h
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August 2009
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November 2009
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April 2010
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June 2010
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September 2010
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