Horizon Showcase: FORGE

Aug 24 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Made of steel

Lyceum Roseburn Workshop (Venue 400): Wed 23 – Fri 25 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

If you imagine that an installation about the Holocaust with live welding and sound design is not for you, think again. FORGE, by Rachel Mars for Horizon Showcase at the Lyceum Workshop, is a visually commanding, thought-provoking piece of art.

Although apparently first conceived as a stage piece, this is not what most people would think of as theatre. It is probably best described as performance art, but whatever you want to call it, it has an emotional pull that is difficult to explain.

Rachel Mars in FORGE. Pic: JMA Photography

In 2014 the original gate to the Dachau concentration camp (with its chilling motto “Arbeit macht frei”) was stolen, and found only after a replica had been made. Mars made another replica – without the motto – in Leeds in 2022, before cutting it to pieces. It has since been remade in London and Bristol and now is being forged once again in the Lyceum’s Roseburn workshop, near the Murrayfield tram stop. Mars describes the act of remaking as ‘an act of reparation and repair’ asking what it means to ‘preserve a site of collective trauma’.

Attendees are asked to wear a long-sleeved top, trousers and enclosed shoes for safety reasons, and are required to don an auto-darkening welding helmet and protective apron. We are told not to remove these under any circumstances.


It is all somewhat disorienting and claustrophobic, even if when first entering the performance space it has the air of a sparsely attended Darth Vader cosplay convention. The visor of the helmet darkening momentarily when exposed to sudden changes in light (which takes some getting used to) is one way of stopping an audience checking their phones, but it also means that it goes dark briefly whenever Mars starts to weld the metal.

Not that it is non-stop welding by any means. It is much more likely to be Mars measuring, preparing to cut metal, cutting, assembling or even stopping to eat a banana.

Rachel Mars in FORGE. Pic: Screengrab

The spectacle of somebody actually creating something is a fascinating one. In theory, you are there for an hour, but some clearly leave after less time, and (subject to capacity) you can stay as long as you like. An hour is certainly long enough to get some idea of the process.

It is the resonance behind the action, rather than the action itself, that has the real power here, however. There is enough information supplied as you enter and leave to start putting it all in context. Mars and co-director and dramaturg Wendy Hubbard are completely in control.

There is a conflict between the necessity of remembering the dead (there is stress on Jewish rituals of funeral and grieving) and the way that memorials can become institutionalised or even monetised. 80,000 people visit Dachau every year and while most do so in order to understand and empathise, is this the only motive? For example, who stole the gates and why has never been explained.


The UK Government only decided to build a Holocaust Memorial in 2015, when the rhetoric against modern-day migrants was being ramped up. Britain likes to congratulate itself on helping Jewish refugees in the 1930s, but many of the same media outlets that demonise refugees today used the same tactics then. Mars’s grandfather (like others) was only admitted on proof of having a job, and was soon interned as an enemy alien.

Rachel Mars in FORGE. Pic: Screengrab

All of these thoughts swirl around in the space, which – thanks to the PPE, Joshua Gadsby’s lighting, Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s design and the sound design of Dinah Mullen – is rather disturbing.

Mullen’s sound, responding to the events and atmosphere in the room, is a huge part of the effect. Jewish and Christian memorials, Glass and Meredith, found sounds derived from the metallurgical process, ominous electronic burbling that rise to frightening levels – it all combines to make a thoroughly effective whole.

And then there is Flashdance, which keeps coming back, in variations of the music, or in an eerie prose piece combining the welder-dancer character from the film with the making of the Dachau gates.

Anyone who may find this questionable will find the appearance on the soundscape of Phil Collins, Celine Dion or Cher even more bizarre. It is open to interpretation, but it is important to remember that Mars identifies as a queer artist as well as a Jewish one, and it seems to be an attempt to provide a response to fascism that is resolutely non-macho and non-militaristic.


Of course there is anger here as well. Along with hope, despair, every other emotion you can think of – and most of all a deep act of remembrance.

This is one of those events that need time to process – giving a star rating to it seems even more reductive and premature than usual. It will be some time before it can all be processed. Yet it could well turn out to be one of those transformative and cleansing experiences, where you leave as a slightly different person.

Running time: one hour (slots are for an hour but you can stay as long as you like, subject to capacity)
Lyceum Roseburn Workshop, 29 Roseburn St, EH12 5PE (Venue 400)
Wednesday 23 – Friday 25 August 2023
Wed 23 Aug: On the hour (not 2pm) 12 noon – 6pm.
Thu 24 Aug: One the hour (not 2pm): 11am – 5pm.
Fri 25 Aug: On the hour (not 1pm) 11am – 3pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Or here: https://lyceum.org.uk/

Rachel Mars website: http://www.rachelmars.org/forge

Instagram: @RachelOfMars

Twitter: @rachelofmars

Rachel Mars in FORGE. Pic: JMA Photography


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