New Art Forms for a World in Transition

The Kunstenfestivaldesarts is not the type of festival that programs works around an annual theme. As director Christophe Slagmuylder points out in the introduction to the festival brochure, KDFA has ‘all kinds of specific content’ (italics mine).

This year, he mentions fear and the way it makes us turn in on ourselves as individuals; populist movements and the new moral (or maybe immoral) values they are promoting across Europe to manipulate those widespread feelings of fear.

We react to fear by constructing barriers, turning inwards as social groups, races, religions and nationalities. Some seek diversions to distract themselves from problems that seem insurmountable. Fear and popularism are responses to the present crises, as our societies become increasingly trapped in the chasm between competing but equally hollow promises.

There is the lure of a return to economic growth, the dogma of free-market capitalism, or the Keynsian consumption model on the one hand, all unsustainable, and on the other there is the weakening of our social resilience, the fragility of our democracies, economies and eco-systems, and uncertainty concerning the future. To be afraid seems ironically like the most rational response to our crises.

While KFDA cannot be defined by an annual theme, one can discern patterns in the reactions produced through artistic creation. It offers a space for artistic diversity, multiple visions and discoveries, a space where we can face the challenges together. Among the discernable patterns this year one can see reactions to that fear and our perceptions of the world, the way we communicate with other humans and other species, what remains unsaid, through fear or (self)censorship.

A related and equally crucial issue at the moment is the ways art can react and re-create itself to meet the challenges of a crisis-ridden future: a new art, for a new age. As Slagmuylder puts it:

“The task of art and culture—accessories to and victims of this alarming development—is to put creativity back at the centre of our lives and to re-discover—in complete freedom—a vital beating heart capable of enlivening our worlds”.

And this is why we must continue to fight for freedom of expression in the arts.