"Oh plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope, but not for us."
K, a Society is a project by the theatre-maker and artist Kris Verdonck and comprises a collection of ten ‘images’ arranged in a circuit. A few of them can be described as ‘installations’; but most of them are projected images. A guide takes the public from one to the other.
In END, a stage production Kris Verdonck created in 2008, he showed what the end of a world, or our world, might possibly look like: ten figures (human beings, machines or a cross between the two) wandered around in an apocalyptic landscape. In K, a Society, he turns his attention to society, to the way people relate to each other, and the way they organise their coexistence.
K, a Society shows aspects of a society that looks very much like our own: a series of images in which tendencies found in our world are ‘translated’, magnified or brought to the surface. They are depictions of personages we know and recognise from reality. Personages that are also related to the figures that inhabit Kris Verdonck’s earlier work.
The starting point for K, a Society was the work of the Prague author Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Other inspiring images were found in German expressionist films – figures with exaggerated grimaces stealing along walls and casting long shadows, in Das weisse Band by the Austrian film director Michael Haneke, in information and experiences connected to Rwandan society, in the mythical structure of the labyrinth, and so on.
Kafka is usually associated with the image of the bureaucratic maze. The world he creates is a nightmare with a cast-iron logic; his characters wander around in it finding no way out, and above all without understanding why things are as they are.
Kafka does the same with his readers as with his characters: he lets them wait endlessly at the door, but they cannot, ever, enter. His oeuvre is like a circular wall, an inaccessible ellipse. To understand anything about his work, you have to distance yourself from it. If you then return and look again later, you see that the image/the wall has changed.
Distancing yourself, returning, looking again, distancing yourself, and so on, this is the movement that Kafka repeatedly forced us into during the process of creating K, a Society. Every image seems to have been fixed, unchanging, but when the viewer moves the image undergoes a change, a metamorphosis, a deformation. Kafka’s work is not so much about the stories or the characters as about the power of deformation, the breath of metamorphosis, and about humour.
The world of K, a Society is populated by people, animals and things. No children. The people are lonely, even when not alone. They wait, talk, sing, while away the time, and have given up. The things are full of energy: will they make it? The animals move, laugh, struggle, die. Perhaps it is they who ‘of all Kafka’s creatures, are the ones most capable of reflection’ (Walter Benjamin).
The viewer sees images in which he might be able to live but where he would not feel at home: they are frozen or magnified, slowed down, distorted, stretched in time and space… The viewer himself has to adopt different positions: he is an I, a you and a he all at the same time, he has to look down on images or look up at them, he has to wait with them, experience the slowness or experience everything in a flash. These shifting viewpoints also make it possible for humour to creep in and establish itself in the images and their mutual relationships.
Text: Marianne Van Kerkhoven