Walter Benjamin’s formulation about epic theater is well-known: Brecht succeeds in turning the theater from a “Bannraum” sort of spell room, into a “conveniently located exhibition space.” The epic playwright draws on “the great old opportunity of the theater in a new way – on the exposure of what is present.”
Whether consciously quoting Benjamin or not, the words “exhibition” and “exposure” are often used by theater makers and scholars to reinforce the seriousness either of the act of showing or of the shown object. If something is being exhibited and not simply represented, the stress lies on the attempt to have an effect: to have consequences beyond the aesthetical as-if-frame. “Exhibition” and “exposure” seem first to recur with a precise and alternative sense in Benjamin, in Brecht and in the Russian avantgarde regisseur and author S. Tretiakov, who became a friend of Brecht in the 1920s. What they understand by “exhibition” seems to be something very specific, not a mere metaphor, rather an operational term. Benjamin uses it in various texts and different formulas (as, for example, the famous and enigmatic „Ausstellungswert“, or “exposition-value”, combined with “cult-value”, in a kind of historical dialectic of the work of art). But the concept of aura and its agony generally steal the show, while the concepts of „Ausstellen“ and „Ausstellungswert“ are often misunderstood according to our current idea of “exposition” from the context of museums, galleries and exhibitions, and according to our experience of “absolute visibility” as a paradigm of modern life (Agamben 2005). This easy to misunderstand, difficult to grasp “exposition-value” seems to name a different experience and an innovative chance that resides in modern reproducibility. Its difference could be not only relevant for theater and its history as an art form, but also for theater intended as a dimension and opportunity of social practice.