• (Andrew Eglinton’s and Mika Eglinton’s article appeared in the Japan Times, 2/5; Photo: Shared history: “This Song Father Used to Sing (Three Days in May),” a play by Thai director Wichaya Artamat, will streamed online from March 24 to 28 during the Kyoto Experiment performing arts festival. | WICHAYA ARTAMAT. )

The Kyoto Experiment (KEX) performing arts festival is marking the beginning of a new era. Not only does it have three new program directors at the helm, it also has a fresh logo and renewed focus on experimentation to boot. Despite a four-month delay due to the spread of COVID-19, the 11th edition of KEX is set to run from Feb. 6 to March 28.

Ever since Yusuke Hashimoto, the former director who stepped down in 2019 after a 10-year reign, launched KEX in 2010, the festival has become a major cultural event, as well as a forum for freedom of expression. Now, with Yoko Kawasaki, Yuya Tsukahara and Juliet Reiko Knapp leading the team, this year’s program will bring the festival’s keyword — experiment — back to the forefront.

During early discussions about shaping their first edition, the directors asked themselves, “What relationship should this experimental festival have with the city of Kyoto, the Kansai region and beyond?” and “What does it mean to create performance experiments in a time of crisis?”

In working through such questions, the directors shaped a framework for the festival with three core programs: Super Knowledge for the Future (SKF), an idea exchange program; Kansai Studies, a research program; and Shows, a performance program.

These three core strands of the festival are represented in string-like form in the new KEX logo. Designed by the festival’s art director, Aiko Koike, the logo represents a range of ideas, from improvisation and experimentation to incompleteness and uncertainty. It is also accessible — anyone could draw it. It could easily turn up in everyday life, perhaps in a bowl of spaghetti or a tangle of shoelaces. “It’s the idea of something that’s very close to you personally,” says Knapp. “In that sense, how can we bring the performing arts closer to people’s lives in a personal way?”

Highlighting the presence of art in the everyday and making it more accessible to audiences is an important element of this year’s KEX. Knapp points out that since the spread of COVID-19, the changing scope of the programs has become all the more relevant to the emerging social, political and cultural landscapes. And so, while each program has a specific function, they overlap in their emphasis on “process.” Highlighting the creative process involved in producing each artistic work is one of the biggest curatorial and editorial shifts at KEX.

Take Kansai Studies. “It’s a program in which we ask artists to research the Kansai area over a long period of time and without a particular purpose at the start. The process is recorded and shared with the audience,” Knapp says. As the participants’ research progresses, the findings are archived on the program’s dedicated website, so that interested visitors can track the findings of each of the research projects.

“It is an experiment to see what can happen on a slower production scale, sharing the processes that the artists go through instead of (presenting) a finished product, which often becomes very sellable on a touring circuit,” Knapp says. The artists currently involved in the research program, which will span three years with a focus on the theme of water, include Toshikatsu Ienari, one of the founders of the Kyoto-based firm Dot Architects, and theater director Nagara Wada.

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