In His Mercy is an adaptation of the 1893 short story La torture par l'espérance by French writer Auguste de Villiers de L'Isle-Adam: At the time of Spanish Inquisition in Zaragoza a Jew, accused of “usury and great harshness against the poor”, is supposed to achieve his salvation through cruel torture. The hopeful escape attempt, however, represents the actual torture. It is an odyssey that can be interpreted as a symbolic representation of unrestrained abuse of power and limitless arbitrariness towards those who think differently under the guise of a transfigured, even perverted, moral world view to protect one's own position of power.

It seems that the extent of political persecution reached its zenith at the latest with Stalinis purges, the Holocaust or the genocide in Cambodia in the 20th century. However, global political trends in established democracies indicate that less than a hundred years later, the lessons learned from individual events have lost their terror. The right to freedom of expression, human rights and basic democratic orders are endangered by the governments/leaders of individual states and sometimes even legitimized by the population. A critical artistic examination was and is therefore, in my view, extremely necessary.

The relocation of the original material from the time of the Inquisition into the modern age, inspired by the prisons of the 1950s during the GDR and Soviet regime, proved useful in order to create a more understandable reference to the present. The idea arose from my previous study of the grueling and exciting records of dissidents from different epochs in Russia, such as F. M. Dostoyevsky (Notes from a House of the Dead, 1862), P. F. Yakubovich (In the Land of the Rejected, 1895 under the pseudonym Melshin) or Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago, 1973). I was extremely impressed by the stories about the abysses of human action on the one hand and human adaptability on the other, which were shaped by enormous oppression and at the same time by a deep humanity.

Due to the natural relationship between the SED and Soviet regimes, research at historical locations in the Berlin area was obvious, such as in the former KGB prison Leistikowstraße in Potsdam, in the former State Security remand prison in Berlin-Hohenschönhausen and in the Stasi Museum in the former Headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security in Berlin-Lichtenberg. They allowed me to get a feel for the gloomy corridors of the prisons. However, the very adaptation of the fantastic short story "Torture by hope" makes it impossible and unnecessary to be historically accurate. Rather, the aim was to expose the viewer to a universal vision impregnated with an oppressive atmosphere and to convey a feeling of ecstasy oscillating between hope and hopelessness.

I envisioned the woodcut/linocut style and story as a strong, inseparable unit, with the graphics, with all their flaws and turmoil, tapping into the heart of the broken convict. Darkness prevails, which through its depth induces a claustrophobic feeling, like being buried alive. Only when there is no detailed background does the nothingness, the unprocessed black surfaces, gain enormous importance: it is a game with emptiness, which gains its meaning from the objects worked out of it. Its psychological effect is ambivalent: it is both a shelter and a space of insecurity.

Christoph Büttner
Director of In His Mercy