Concluding our trilogy about “the hole in the donut”—that rule-bound space within which our readings of others can have shared, verifiable legitimacy (see PoL #10 and Addendum to PoL #10)—Dutch artist and writer Niels Bekkema looks at the different kinds of rules laid down by courts and immigration authorities, and by artists working to critique these systems. Watching Iranian-Dutch artist Ehsan Fardjadniya’s 2019 performance piece, “Refugee on Trial,” talking to the asylum lawyer Frans-Willem Verbaas, whom Fardjadniya cast in this verité performance, and attending sessions of the criminal court recommended by Verbaas, Bekkema thinks through the various rituals and rules of public story-telling via his own experience as a minimum wage phone-bank caller for the government, a helper for asylum seekers housed in a Dutch ex-prison, and as an artist seeking the most direct connection between work and audience. He finds that the asylum seeker, the artist, and the accused are all at risk of being misread—often with disastrous consequences. Narrower rules might stop the most egregious misreadings, but they can erase the space of personal judgment that gives our readings meaning. More flexible rules—or no rules at all—threaten to cast us out into the solitude of our whims and personal quirks, robbing us of the shared structure that makes reading and judgment collective. In this social and political drama there is no easy resting place.
27 July, 2022