EFFE Laureate - Gogolfest Annual Multidisciplinary International Festival of Contemporary Art
If the Ukrainian capital had a festival devoted to the works of of the writer Nikolai Gogol (1809 – 1852), it would hardly be a surprise. He was, after all, one of the giants of 19th century literature and spoke Ukrainian as well as Russian. Plenty of composers responded to his stories – from Shostakovich's bizarre opera The Nose to Janacek's bombastic tone poem Taras Bulba. His life was strangely parallel to his compatriot of a generation later, Tchaikovsky, who based two of his operas on a Gogol story; both were gay, spent long periods in Paris and Italy, and allowed themselves to die at an early age (to say they committed suicide would be too definite). Maybe Kyiv could have such a festival – though his political views were unpleasant enough to make any democrat recoil.
However that is NOT what Gogolfest is about. Instead, for the last ten years it has been Kyiv's main outlet for contemporary and experimental arts. The EFFE jury said, “in a country with no tradition of contemporary culture... this festival has a huge impact on Ukrainian society. These festival makers are fearless and courageous. The companies who perform at the festival often cover the costs themselves. They perform because of the ethics of the festival.”
Gogolfest includes, or is happy to include almost every genre of work that falls outside the mainstream, from circus through on the edge rock music to street theatre and performance art. “It's a kind of guerilla festival,” said the EFFE jury.
The impact of Gogolfest has not just been on the streets of Kyiv, however, or in the fact that it has provided a space for experimental work outside the still old fashioned state structures. Oleksandr Butsenko, who is a spokesman for EFFE's Ukrainian Festival hub, says Gogolfest has gained its importance because it has become a symbol of the country's energy in contemporary culture and is representing that to the world.
For those who have been part of the journey of Gogolfest's growth over the past decade, the importance has been even greater, Oleksandr thinks. “Many of the artists and performers effectively started their careers in the festival as participants and then have gone on to start their own activity. Gogolfest is starting to have an effect all across Ukraine – not only directly but indirectly as well.”
By Simon Mundy for EFA