The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Kunsten Festival des Arts, making Brussels a center generating new trends in contemporary art
Christophe Slagmuylder
There is cooperation between the various international festivals today, but there is also rivalry. What are the types of festivals that KFDA wants to network with for the future?
  First of all KFDA is a multi-genre festival that works with a wide variety of artists, and for that reason we work with a variety of organizations. So, there is the possibility to work with a wide variety of partners. Also, our festival is held in May, so we tie up with other European festivals that are held at the same time of year so that the same works can tour. In Europe there are tie-ups like this not only between festivals but also between theaters. Outside of Europe, we will be introducing artists from Singapore at our 2008 festival so we are collaborating on the production with the Singapore Arts Festival. These kinds of partnerships are formed work-by-work or project-by-project and are thus different in nature from long-term partnerships. With the network of six European festivals I mentioned earlier that we are receiving EU funding from, we work together from the planning stage. That doesn’t mean that all six festivals must participate in our joint projects. The requirement is that three of the six have to participate in order to receive funding. I think this is a very good system that allows the festivals in the network to maintain their independence and individuality.
  You could say that there is a danger that this network for collaborative works could lead to all the festivals using the same artists on their programmes. It is good for the festivals to network and cooperate but there is also a need for the festivals to maintain their individuality.

When you are able to present the world premiere or the European premiere of a work at KFDA, what significance does that have for you as a festival? One would think that there is a considerable amount of prestige involved in being able to present a world premiere.
  There are two answers to this question, a sincere one and an insincere one (laughs).
First the insincere one. For the audience, the fact that a performance is a world premiere doesn’t matter at all. And, since it doesn’t matter to the audience if the work has been performed before in another city, for that reason it is not important to me as the festival director whether a work premieres at my festival or not.
  Now the sincere answer. Even though it doesn’t matter to the audience, there is still an element of prestige in presenting a world premiere and I believe that one can’t ignore the significance of the fact that many foreign professionals and journalists will be coming to be there at the world premiere of a new creation. And, the prestige of being able to present a world premiere that attracts a large foreign audience is something that politicians and public-sector authorities can look at when evaluating the impact of the festival, and it is therefore an important asset that can used to convince the public-sector authorities that our festival is worth continuing.

It also has significance in terms of creating a relationship of trust with an artist by being the presenter of a world premiere of their work, doesn’t it?
  That is certainly a factor, but there are also cases in which the work is still somewhat incomplete or unrefined when it premieres at KFDA and then it appears at another festival half a year later in a much better, more mature performance (laughs). Deciding how to deal with these contradicting factors of a world premiere is difficult. It takes time for a work to mature. And for the audience to come to a performance with big expectations and curiosity because it is a world premiere and end up seeing what is still an immature work can be very disappointing. So there are good and bad aspects to a world premiere and you have to consider the risks involved.

Can you tell us about the directions and projects you want to pursue as KFDA’s second director?
  First of all I want to do my best to continue the proud tradition that has been established at KFDA, but at the same time I want to think of KFDA itself as a kind of project. KFDA is not some clearly defined a priori entity but a project that arose in the midst of a given time and its contexts. Therefore, I believe that my role is to carry on with a strong sense of the philosophical basis of the festival while continuing to question how to share artistic creativity in today’s society, how to encourage the development of individual intellect and critical faculties and how to gain from our encounters with others. Because, I believe that these are the fundamentals of our festival’s philosophy. And, my challenge is finding ways to apply these ideals practically to our programme. I belong to a different generation from Frie Leysen, and I believe that I can bring something of my own vision, my own color and my own path to the programme.
  If it were a project that I had no previous involvement in, it might be interesting to start over from point zero and make my own start, but in my case I have been involved in KFDA since 2002, working with Frie Leysen on the programme and inheriting a lot from her gradually. And in fact, she left a considerable part of the artistic choices up to me in the past, so for me there is no cut-off point between her directorship and mine. Rather, it has been a quite natural transition with a good amount of continuity. So, I don’t have the feeling that I have to make any drastic decisions to change things. From the beginning, KFDA has been a festival that has always been changing and developing, and I think it is important for me to carry on this tradition of evolving with the times.
  In terms of specific differences, I would say that Frie Leysen was the type person who found interest in programming that deliberately juxtaposed artists from different regions with contrasting artistic vocabularies, while I am one who wants to bring some kind of clear line or direction to a programme.

Finally, could you give us some specific names of artists from the history of the KFDA whom you think have been especially important in defining and projecting to the world the value and unique character of your festival?
  As artists who have participated at KFDA from the early years, and who were relatively unknown at the time but are now recognized as some of the world’s leading international artists, I would cite Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment) and Romeo Castellucci (Societas Rafaello Sanzio ). Also, Christoph Marthaler is one who participated from the first KFDA festival, and for the first time outside the German-speaking arts scene, and today he is one of Europe’s leading artists. Our festival also has a long tradition of working with artists from Argentina. In particular, El Perifelico des Objectos has created works for KFDA and performed for us numerous times. William Kentridge of South Africa is another frequent participant in KFDA. This relationship began when we asked him to compose a piece of music, and now he has reached the point where he is writing operas as well. We also have relationships with artists from the Middle East, There is Rabih Mroue of Lebanon who has presented works at KFDA three times, I believe, and now he has become a well-known artist on the international scene. It is the same with the young Iranian director Amir Reza Koohestani. He was a virtually unknown young artist when he presented his work Dance on The Glass at KFDA in 2004, but after our 2007 festival he was also presenting his works at such famous international festivals as the Holland Festival and Festival D’Autoume. The same is true for Toshiki Okada. For artists like these, KFDA became the starting point for their international careers, and from the standpoint of our audience, they were artists who provided exciting new art. And for me, Toshiki Okada is one of these representative artists. And I truly hope that he will continue to be an artist who participates in the history of the KFDA.
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