This evening marks the start of the second Unfolding Kafka Festival, one of the most diverse events within the Thai arts and culture scene.
The festival will run until November 22 in Bangkok before moving north to Chiang Mai’s MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum On November 24 and 25. During its run, there will be a number of exhibitions, dances, theatre performances, lectures and film screenings presented by a global cast of boundary-pushers who stand at the vanguard of their fields in contemporary art.
A few standouts include a dance adaptation of “Red Peter” at Bangkok CityCity Gallery, a co-production by 18 Monkeys and Korzo producties; Berlin-based Japanese artist Yoko Seyama’s Saiyah #2.3, a light installation, also at Bangkok CityCity Gallery, that continuously modifies the surrounding space with a medley of hues; and a multimedia performance called “Holistic Strata”, put on by Japanese choreographer Hiroaki Umeda.
The festival was founded by acclaimed Thai choreographer Jitti Chompee, who says he was struck by the creative possibilities of adapting the German author’s work in a different media while attending a performance of “Der Bau” in Hamburg, Germany, in 2014.
Featuring a variety of media tethered by the work and symbolism of Franz Kafka, the festival is underpinned by the noble ambition of proving that contemporary art is for everyone.
Prestige recently talked to Jitti Chompee about the festival.
How has the festival grown since its first edition?
After a successful first edition two years ago, the public and the artists requested me to direct the festival again and try to run it every two years.
This year, the festival grew even bigger and has even more artists coming from many countries, such as Germany, Japan, France, Israel, The Netherland, Canada, Norway and Sweden.
For the second edition, we also expanded our educational programme, since we believe in the art as a medium for learning. The Goethe-Institut Thailand offers and supports the festival by presenting the installation Saiyah #2.3 by Yoko Seyama, the exhibition “K: KafKa in KomiKs” curated by David Zane Mairowitz and Małgorzata Zerwe, and the screening of the silent documentary film “Kafka geht ins Kino”. We also encourage teachers and professors to come and exchange ideas with our artists so that they can share their experiences in class.
Finally, we have launched a worldwide open call for artists to apply to the festival. At my surprise, we received over 350 applications from everywhere. I had the chance to discover so many different pieces and artists, which gave me a kind of guideline for the next edition of the festival. I’m already thinking about Unfolding Kafka Festival 2019, which should be revolving around the idea of “Kafka’s Zoo”.
Does the festival deal with any different themes?
All the art relates to folding/unfolding material or human bodies, animalism, gender and identity.
One of the artists from the first edition, Laurent Goldring, suggested adding another layer to the direction of the festival by treating the subject matter of gender and identity, which, fortunately, relates perfectly to Kafka’s work. For instance, the piece Be Claude, supported by the Embassy of France in Thailand, is a solo street theatre performance where a man explores his feminine side. It is funny while being philosophical.
We also have many female artists presenting their own perspective about gender, like Roni Chadash, a young artist supported by the Embassy of Israel in Thailand, who performs the entire piece with her unique physicality, but especially without showing her head. It changes completely the relationship to the woman’s body.
Does the work of Franz Kafka hold any special significance to you now that maybe it didn’t when you founded the festival?
For me, Kafka is the archetype of so many people in our society, who would have the potential or secretly wish to live as an artist, but because of different factors, or preconceived ideas, will rather have a more traditional life. It is such a pity! Indeed, Kafka wrote many stories, but he was mainly working as a lawyer for an insurance company in Prague; I don’t believe that he was a lawyer by choice. Even though he had to live this double life, he achieved what many couldn’t: to be a genius artist, who found his own unique style.
As an artist, the key is to be your true self, not a mere copy of someone else.
Are there any especially unique, or can’t-miss, performances or exhibitions this year?
I would suggest you to see No-body by Roni Chadash. It’s my favourite dance installation at the Rose Hotel Bangkok. And Saiyah # 2.3 exhibition by Yoko Seyama is wonderful: simplicity and seeing lights unfold and fold themselves in the empty space.
Don’t miss the grand opening night of the festival on November 9, where you will see how Kafka inspires the performing arts world.