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Betty Yi-Chun Chen

Watching Ripples

In one of our discussions in autumn 2022 preparing for the programme focus WHEN MEMORIES MEET, Sophie Becker told me about Djajeng Pratomo, a fighter for Indonesian independence, who was also active in the anti-Nazi resistance during his studies in the Netherlands. He survived the camps of Amersfoort, Vught and Dachau. Although he stayed in the Netherlands after the war where he worked as a journalist, he continued to strive for the independence of Indonesia.

Pratomo’s story opened a different perspective on the history of decolonization and resistance against fascism. And he was not a single phenomenon: like-minded young students from Indonesia had formed the association Perhimpunan Indonesia, which opposed fascism and Nazism in both Europe and Asia. Their stories were a timely reminder—amid the controversies surrounding documenta fifteen in summer 2022— of how hasty labels of oppositions too often block engagement with the complexity and the potential of history, restricting it to a perpetual repetition of fixed projections.

Donna Haraway’s optical metaphor of diffraction therefore became an important departure point during our curatorial discussions. Imagine when two stones are thrown into the water, the ripples they make would interfere with each other and form a complex pattern. The changing wave patterns are not determined by one single point but by their interactions. Instead of assuming a fixed, known pattern, we would like to look at these ripples, to observe the “history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference” in order to “get more promising interference patterns on the recording films of our lives and bodies.”[1]

In this way, the series of performances, installations, talks and films in WHEN MEMORIES MEET, probe into the legacies of major historical conflicts and divides. Some of them engage with the aftermath of historical atrocities, others discover transnational parallels, revealing unknown correlations across national and ideological fronts. Still others dive into the silence beyond the obvious political. From memories of civil wars, colonial infrastructure, state violence and diaspora, to father’s videotapes, mother’s songs and concert pianos, artistic endeavour trace these ripples that have shaped personal identity and social imagination to create moments of encounter, interference and– in a time of social divides and changing historical narratives— connection. Without which a new understanding of the reality in this shared world won’t be possible.


[1] Donna Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan©_Meets_OncoMouse™.

About Betty Yi-Chun Chen

Betty Yi-Chun Chen is dramaturg and translator. She studied English Literature and Theatre Studies in Taipei and Bochum. From 2012 to 2022, she worked with the Taipei Arts Festival. As a freelance dramaturg she has worked with artists and curators from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Germany. A constant emphasis in her work is the friction between individual and collective narratives. She writes about contemporary practices of political theatre and has translated books and plays from German/English to Chinese. Betty Yi-Chun Chen is co-curator of this year's SPIELART Theatre Festival.