KFDA at 20: Contemporary arts festival reflects on time


As it marks 20 years of challenging performance, Brussels’ Kunstenfestivaldesarts bridges the language divide and invites performers and audiences to meditate on the passage of time

A fresh perspective

As the hybrid name suggests, Kunstenfestivaldesarts is a bridge between Belgium’s two largest linguistic communities, who tend – even in officially bilingual Brussels – to explore their respective art worlds in splendid isolation.

But it’s much more than a gesture of national amity. Artists from around the world are also invited to participate in what has become one of the capital’s biggest celebrations of contemporary performance. More than anything, KFDA is a testament to Brussels’ standing in the international arts scene.

Indeed, the city owes some of its current clout to this very festival. KFDA has been staking its claim for a full two decades now, and this 20th anniversary edition is bigger than ever, with 32 projects spread out over 22 venues and three weeks. Some 330 artists from 16 countries, participate in 134 performances and one exhibition. And thousands of visitors will enjoy them.

KFDA marks this milestone with a general reflection on time – the way it structures artistic creation and the way art structures time in its turn. The centrepiece of this meditation is a comprehensive catalogue of the festival’s 20 years, The Time We Share.

In the process of documenting KFDA’s history, the editors and contributors (often the artists themselves) link the performances of yesteryear to contemporaneous artistic and social developments.

This kind of work is normally the reserve of art historians theorising centuries after the fact, but the defining feature of contemporary art is its self-consciousness. Today’s artists and their public demand the right to define themselves. So three evenings of discussions accompany the publication and are spaced throughout the festival.

The theme also resonates in this year’s performances, which address the full spectrum of flux from the ever-changing codes of performance to the evolution of identity to the transformation of public space (with a focus, of course, on Brussels).

KFDA invites its audience to look into the future if only to look back on the present from a fresh perspective, to recognise the changes that escape notice in real time. It’s a tall order, and some artists will undoubtedly miss that particular mark. Luckily, contemporary art allows for such shortcomings as long as one comes short in style.

Festival highlights

My Breathing is my Dancing • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
While Kunstenfestivaldesarts trumpets its dedication to up-and-coming artists (and it’s true that the programme is full of rising stars), the name at the top of its marquee is that of Belgium’s pre-eminent contemporary choreographer. Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s emotive minimalism helped put Flanders on the dance map in the 1980s. She continues to deconstruct the medium in her recent performance-cum-exhibition Work/Travail/Arbeid, which was launched at Wiels in March in the context of another festival and yields midway through KFDA to the world premiere of her latest creation, My Breathing Is My Dancing. 8-14 May, Wiels, Van Volxemlaan 354

Les Marches de la Bourse • Anna Rispoli
Anna Rispoli (pictured above) has been tapped to turn in a KFDA-opening performance in the heart of the city. The Italian-born, Brussels-based artist, whose work exists in the sweet spot between public space and private experience, chose a venue of obvious significance: the Beurs. This relic from the 19th century is a monument to that period’s imperial ambitions and so, naturally, it’s also one of Brussels’ go-to sites for protesters (and the occasional reveller). Rispoli invites several of these back to the steps where they once made their statement. Entry is free. 8 May, 18.00, Beursplein

Umbelina’s Cave • Leandro Nerefuh
Although contemporary art is all about “thinking outside the box”, sometimes it feels like formal experiment has reached the point of diminishing returns. So the truly transversal work of Brazilian artist and social theorist Leandro Nerefuh is a breath of fresh air. Returning to the avant-garde’s roots in criticism, Nerefuh first astounds by having something to say. He astounds once more in the way he delivers the message. His work is truly transdisciplinary, fusing not just artistic media but also academic disciplines. Umbelina’s Cave explores postcolonial identity via lecture and performance. In English (ironic, isn’t it?). 10-12 May, Beursschouwburg, Auguste Ortsstraat 20-28

Our City • Maria Tarantino
Since its host city is so central to KFDA, it’s no surprise that the festival has invited director Maria Tarantino to screen her documentary Our City. The 2014 film is a report on the changing identity of Brussels. Tarantino isn’t interested in the city’s role as capital of Europe (or of Belgium or of Flanders) but rather plunges into everyday Brussels. She interviews natives and newcomers from around the world and, in the process, discovers that Brussels is a true crossroads. In Dutch and French with English subtitles. 20-24 May, Galeries Cinema, Koninginnegalerij 26

Kunstenfestivaldesarts, 8-30 May, across Brussels

Photo (c) Bea Borgers