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Miscellaneous > 17.5 Digital Installations

Kafka : The penal colony

by Beetroot Design Group

“The history of mankind is the instant between
two strides taken by a traveler”
– Franz Kafka

In his sort story “In the Penal Colony” Franz Kafka suspends the time between “two strides of a traveler” allowing us to observe an intriguing study about man submitting his humanism because of (his) principles. In the story the key-protagonist is a machine. A complex and gruesome contraption that is supposed to assists perpetrators in reaching complete understanding of the law they broke and achieve catharsis through physical pain. Being commissioned to design Philip Glass’ opera based on Kafka’s story, it became evident that the theatrical interpretation of the machine would be principal in defining both the overall design and the tone of the performance.

After reading Kafka again and again, it became apparent that his machine, despite being meticulously described, could not be physically interpreted in a physical sense. Kafka’s descriptions focus on function, process and goal but physically it is impossible. Kafka’s machine is a literary device. Its mechanic is the writer. Its builder is the reader. In this line we decided to create the machine out of Kafka’s text itself (as it was adapted in the English libretto of the opera by Rudy Wurlitzer). We re-arranged the passages of the various descriptions of the machine and its function into a circular grid and then animated the text in a way that, via projection, it would encircle its victim on stage, crawl towards him and ultimately cover him up as a “font swarm”.

By using various analogue sound clusters and original digitally created audio we enhanced the projection by providing the sonic aspects of the text’s transformations: twists, curls, distortions, movement, malfunctions etc. , and in this line transformed it into an audiovisual entity with the abilities to torture and, ultimately, to kill.

Philip Glass’s opera “In the Penal Colony” on a libretto by
Rudy Wurlitzer after Franz Kafka, was presented in January, 2016
by the Onassis Cultural Centre, directed by Paris Mexis, designed
by Beetroot and lit by George Tellos.

  • Creative Directors Beetroot Design Group
  • Art Directors
  • Designers
  • Illustrators
  • Photographers Beetroot, Yiannis Soulis
  • Editors
  • Copywriters
  • Director Paris Mexis
  • Music Camerata
  • Sound Design Beetroot
  • Lights George Tellos
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