Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Insurance Man: Kafka in The Penal Colony is an installation based on Kafka’s story, which was itself derived from his reading a 1914 study of penal colonies in the South Seas. In the story a researcher-explorer arrives at a penal colony and is introduced to a curious apparatus comprised of a harrow, a designer and a bed; the Officer who operates the apparatus lectures the Explorer about its workings. The subreality of everyday life in Prague and the inner world of office work were Kafka’s own ‘apparatus of reality’. He continually wrote about these parallel realities in letters, diaries, stories, office documents, manifestos and aphorisms, all of which gave his inner world an intensely visual quality, merging life and art into a unified, fragmented whole. In the exhibition, the fable of the Colony is portrayed through objects, texts and visual constructions shown as gestures representing the pre-history of Kafka’s report on the world as a chilling penal colony. The South Seas penal colonies here become a lexical metaphor for the 20th century’s concentration camps, asylum camps and prison colonies.

The installation searches for Kafka’s ‘Secret Insurance Policy’ that enabled him to relate his life in writing to art, perhaps in the way that Walter Benjamin wrote of Kafka, as “one who compelled Expressionism to bear fruit, by pruning it according to wild linguistic drives.” This installation imitates both linguistic and visual drives: “I imitated people,” the ape says in Kafka’s ‘Report to an Academy’, “because I was looking for a way out, and for no other reason”.

Curated by Jerry Zaslove and Bill Jeffries

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