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Forum Summary: Rethinking and Remaking Festival Culture

Summarized by Alice Kim

In an age of globalized biennial culture, East Asia, with the rise of its own biennial boom since the 1990s, is no exception. Countless art biennials, festivals, and fairs in East Asia monopolize state and private resources to reinforce dominant trends and values of market-centered capitalist globalization. But how might we rethink and remake these proliferating international arts and culture events, and the mega-festival form itself, into a different kind of “festival”—one more aligned with the critical ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin and Henri Lefebvre, and challenging the evolving entrepreneurial activities of post- or neo-developmental states?

Growing networks of social movements across the region have long been organizing transnational events and festivals of a different sort. Events such as Kids Guernica in Nagasaki or the Homecoming Project from Hokkaido to Seoul steadfastly anticipate a different, more livable future and carry out small steps to historical feats, even where inter-governmental activity remains stalled.

The forum, based on experiences with a variety of international festivals—from arts festivals promoting disaster-risk preparedness for children in Japan, to peace festivals in Costa Rica, to festivals examining ecological urbanism in Seoul—raised critical perspectives on the festival form as well as its social effects.

For example, one member raised the issue of the difficulty of evaluating both short- and long-term effects of international festivals because of their transient structure, as well as concerns of criteria for measuring their reach and impact vis-a-vis restrictive bureaucratic frameworks of examination. Other members posed the challenge of curating one’s own biennial and what that might look like, as others suggested festivals be approached as attempts to “collect and imitate” efforts of people changing the world around them.

At the same time, this connected to the question of the duration of the festival, whereby models for substantive changes to the system that insinuates a different set of core values and everyday practices introduced at such events were seen to fall short of long-lasting effects due to the short time frame of the biennale. As promising projects begin within the frame of certain festivals, they are cut off prematurely, before they can gestate and have more widespread effects in the broader society.

Lastly, another element that consistently threaded the various topics was the connection of the festival to young people, reminding us of the importance of the politics and meaning of youth, which formed a key part of the “revolutionary romanticism” of Lefebvre’s festival.