To further reaches of experimentation
The eleventh edition of Kyoto Experiment, and our first edition as a co-director team, marks a new chapter for the festival. It was in April 2019 that the three of us took over from former program director Yusuke Hashimoto and began working as a co-director team. We were then planning to hold a festival in 2020, but the world around us changed dramatically over the course of our preparations. Although the festival was originally intended to be Kyoto Experiment 2020, we decided not to hold the festival in autumn due to the spread of the coronavirus, and instead organize it in the spring as Kyoto Experiment 2021 Spring.
In the process, we had to make some changes, and some programs have turned out differently than we had originally planned; however, what we wanted to achieve with this Kyoto Experiment remains largely unchanged. Now, after nearly two years of preparation, we are excited to be able to share with you the festival in its new form, along with its programs. Over the course of countless meetings between the three of us, there were a number of questions that we continued to ask each other, incorporating our thoughts on them into the programs.
One question was this: what kind of performing arts experimentation is possible in a festival that calls itself “Kyoto Experiment?” Kyoto Experiment is exactly what its name suggests—a festival dedicated to introducing experimental performing arts in this city. But what does it even mean to be “experimental”? What significance is there in creating and sharing experimental arts in Kyoto? We have grappled with these questions ever since we started working as co-directors, even as the society around us changed. Both in Japan and globally, what might be considered the negative side-effects of globalization are becoming increasingly apparent, such as intolerance of others, social divisions, economic disparity, and environmental crises. Under these circumstances, why should we pursue experimental artistic expression in the context of an international performing arts festival? As we contemplated this question, we began to see what an international creative platform like Kyoto Experiment should aspire to do in this increasingly fragmented and polarized world. And that was to focus on the things that lie in between things, the unknown, the unknowable, the ambiguous—in other words, to focus on producing experimental expressions of such nature.
Experimental expression is not something that everyone can understand or that can always be understood. But it maybe such artistic expressions that have the power to expand our way of thinking, fostering new values and open-mindedness that are required for the future. Creators and artists, who constantly bring new perspectives and unexpected approaches to existing value systems and methodologies, are surely the most equipped to do this. Moreover, Kyoto is a city that is home to many universities, hubs of artistic creation, and leading-edge companies, offering plenty of potential for artists to develop new ideas while linking up with different fields; as such, there is great significance in producing experimental art in this city.
It was these considerations that led to our decisions about what we should include in our programs: works that break away from conventional forms of expression, works that are hybrids of existing forms or show the gray area between forms; process-driven expressions; research or expressions that revisit and expand on past artistic activities that Kyoto and the Kansai region have seen. We believe expressions of these sorts can step over cognitive boundaries we have unknowingly drawn in our minds, while also making us appreciate the full potential of Kyoto as a creative city.
Another key question was about what kind of ideas would be needed to make the festival a place for thinking rather than a place for viewing. Rather than situate the staged works at the center of it all, could we not treat the environment in which they are produced, and all the events they end up bringing about in society, as part of the festival too? And is it possible to interconnect the thought processes across the yearly festivals? These questions led us to create a new structure for the festival with three main programs: “Kansai Studies” (research program), “Shows” (performance program), and “Super Knowledge for the Future” (SKF; exchange program). Our hope is that this framework will open up possibilities for the festival, creating new relationships that generate dialogue and allow artists and audiences to discover each other.
Kansai Studies is a program in which we work with artists to research Kyoto, where the festival is based, and the general Kansai region, while sharing the whole process online. Over this past year, the research has focused on the theme of water, an indispensable element in our lives. The process, shaped by the unique perspectives of artists, has been full of counterintuitive ideas, unexpected encounters, unpredictable developments. One aim is that this program becomes a basis for Kyoto Experiment’s ideas and thought processes, and ultimately serves as a creative base for artists from Japan and overseas.
Shows is a viewing-based program, but it highlights the various boundaries that exist in the performing arts. The lineup consists of works that question such boundaries, sometimes gently, sometimes acutely, each in their own way. It focuses on expressions that, rather than offer answers, show how to set the questions, how to approach them, and how dialogue can emerge out of these questions. The Shows program will also support and promote artists who create such works.
The SKF program uses formats other than stage performances, such as talks and workshops, to open up dialogue, covering background issues involved in putting together a festival, topics addressed in the Shows performances, and other matters that are important today beyond the performing arts. Our hope is that the “super knowledge for the future” shared in this program will give rise to discussions, exchange, and new ideas, and have an impact on future editions of the festival.
Experimental expression does not prescribe a single form; it continues to change and evolve all the time. Surely it is this ever-shifting form that has the potential to continually manifest the here and now in undefined, polymorphous ways, always adapting itself for the future. The purpose of Kyoto Experiment is to be part of this very process of transformation, and we hope you will join us. We look forward to sharing with you new challenges and experimental days to come.
Lastly, we would like to thank all the artists, staff, and everyone involved for helping to drive this festival forward in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, and for their kind understanding regarding the repeated changes that we have had to make.
Kyoto Experiment Co-directors
Yoko Kawasaki Yuya Tsukahara Juliet Reiko Knapp