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KIKK 2023: a menu of talks in 42 sittings

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Marie-Flore Pirmez

A voracious fan of podcasts and documentaries, Marie-Flore is a firm believer in the revival of print journalism thanks to the many opportunities offered by the web and long-form magazines. When she takes off her journalist's hat, you're likely to find her hiking or in a yoga studio.

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Two days. Four venues. 42 talks. 52 speakers from around the globe to narrate, popularise, reveal, inspire, retrace, affect. At one and the same time, even. A public of professionals jockey for position at the entrance gates, leading to jampacked halls at times. Incognito, kingkong took the pulse of this 2023 vintage of lectures made in KIKK.

You can spot them straightaway, the people who are setting foot in the Walloon capital for the first time. At the train station, eyes riveted to their GPS applications, they all head in the direction of the lower part of the town. They work within a wide variety of sectors in the creative and digital industries: data visualisation, brand strategy, design, research, virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), etc. Several of them (us included) pick up the pace as they make their way down Rue de Fer. They certainly wouldn’t want to miss the opening lecture of this twelfth edition of the KIKK Festival.

It has just gone 10.00 at the Namur Theatre when the great Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian – whom we spoke to you about in the article announcing the festival – takes to the stage in her candy-pink dress and imitation leather cowboy boots. Accompanied by the Japanese Nobumichi Tosa, vice-president of the arts company Maywa Denki, they warm up the gathering with a morning dance routine. It turns out that the two performance artists have known each other for quite a long time. ‘In the summer of 2008, I had the opportunity to do an internship at Maywa Denki,’ remembers Nelly. ‘I was introduced to the philosophy of their enterprise: “complete nonsense”. Life is a nonsense and design and art must reflect that.’

After several sways of her pelvis, Nelly involves us in the quest for a radical imagination, as she likes to call it. The designer teaches this way of thinking at the University of the underground. A one-of-a-kind institution which she created in 2017. The first university in the world to be established in nightclub basements. ‘The way we have constructed human thought is so limited,’ she declares. It’s true that when you think like Ben Hayoun, your outlook necessarily broadens. She in particular works closely with the SETI Institute and explains that each of its staff members must be able to give an answer to an unknown variable of the famous Drake equation. This well-known mathematical hypothesis which attempts to estimate the potential number of extraterrestrial civilisations within our galaxy.
Slightly behind schedule, she speeds up the pace at which she shows us her over 200 pop-kitsch slides, but before making way for other speakers, Nelly Ben Hayoun-Stépanian puts on her director’s hat in order to present the trailer for her most recent work for the very first time: ‘Doppelgänger’, a German term which literally means ‘the identical lookalike of a living person’. In this futurist-tinged documentary, Nelly and her two ‘doppelgängers’ challenge notions of space, time, design, but also the politics and economics of performance. You will be able to see for yourselves very soon.

 @ Antonin Weber
@ Antonin Weber

After this inspiring appetiser, the professionals are let loose and scatter to the various talks venues. A shift in the mood at the Bourse with the Australian Jack Isles, architect, researcher, cartographer and first and foremost a member of the Swiss-based investigative agency Border Forensics. His presentation documents the intersections between climatology, migration and human rights in the light of the border violences sponsored by the European States. In the Friends Room at the Namur Theatre, a totally new hall for the KIKK Festival, talks for the most part in French are held in small groups and above all can be attended free-of-charge. A format and a space which enables (finally) a brief exchange between speakers and public. On the menu: funding opportunities for the cultural and creative industries (CCI) in collaboration with ST’ART, gamification and innovations in terms of extended reality (XR) technologies, deconstructing the myth of the starving artist, etc.
At the Delta, the former Namur ‘Maison de la Culture’, an elixir of love with Valentina Peri. The artist, author and independent exhibition curator explores the issues of dating in the digital age. ‘The contemporary phenomenon of online dating and the use of new technologies to get singletons to match up with one another has a longer history than one might think’, she reveals. ‘Over the last century, the history of amorous practices has shown that the acquiring of new freedoms often goes hand in hand with suspicions and stereotypes. What seems disturbing for one generation often ends up being accepted by the next.’ She continues by unloading a mass of other data: ‘one out of five couples has met on a dating site. The scale of this phenomenon is ample proof of its potential for profit and for collecting data on users. Dating sites and apps for pulling partners are today ranked third amongst online paid content sites, ahead even of pornography’. Her research on the subject has enabled her to put together an itinerant exhibition called Data Dating Desire, which has been touring Europe since 2018 and in particular stopped off at the iMal digital arts centre in Brussels at the end of October 2021.

Another subject explored by Valentina Peri: romantic fraud on the web. In her book, The New Romance Scammer’s Instructor, Valentina went to meet Ghanaian swindlers who maintain romantic relationships online to in the end squeeze money from these people, often living on the other side of the world. ‘The number of victims is very certainly underestimated because they do not always declare these scams’, Valentina informs us. In Ghana, this scamming phenomenon is called ‘Sakawa’, a term defining both illegal internet-based fraudulent practices as well as African spiritual rituals. A staggering work of research and editing to set the record straight regarding the reasons which push these scammers towards this type of cybercrime, and one which rehumanises them. But certain scammers have succeeded in garnering such a profit from their businesses that they have become absolute stars on the social networks, such as Raimi Abdoulaye, aka @commissaire.5500, who has amassed over 364,000 subscribers on Instagram.

For several audience members, asked on their way out of the talks, a shared feeling emerges: ‘the programme is packed and you don’t know which way to turn,’ admits one young woman. ‘We would like to attend all the talks but you also need a few breaks to process and chat about what you have just heard, because we don’t get the opportunity to ask the speakers our questions,’ her friend responds. In Namur, the weather is partly mild, partly rainy, but the town centre is full of inviting eateries where to rest your mind and recharge your batteries between talks. 

@ Antonin Weber

After slightly less than an hour’s break, time to get going again. At 14.00, a new batch of guests treads the stages of the KIKK Festival. It’s hard to find a place in the Bourse hall for the presentation by Antoine Bertin, who has come to talk about biomimetic listening. ‘The history of technologies is very closely tied to biomimetics, which consists of being inspired by the essential attributes of the living world and transposing their principles and processes in regard to human engineering,’ he argues. ‘Music would never have been born if we had never listened to the sounds of nature or if we hadn’t become aware of the noise produced by gravity.’ Whilst he proves to be a skilled orator and elicits several bursts of laughter from the audience, the acoustic artist also invites us to consider global deforestation by means of his installation 333Hz, and asks us to observe a minute’s silence in honour of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a species of bird thought to have become extinct last year.

Frustration overwhelms us on writing this experience feedback, because numerous other human beings deeply affected us during their talks of Thursday 26th and Friday 27th of October. Such as the beautiful Gemma O’Brien, having travelled directly from Sydney to offer us a flashback of the last ten years of her career as a visual artist. Her steely mindset has enabled her to produce the largest mural frescoes, which bear her very specific imprint, and to take part in ultra-trail running competitions. Via the large screen on the Namur Theatre stage, with her we turn the pages of her ‘visual diary’. A compilation in analogue mode of the various work development stages she goes through before delivering actual artworks. And then there is Kirsty Jennings, executive producer at Anagram, an English creative studio well versed in immersive storytelling and an award winner at the 2021 Venice Film Festival (no less!). ‘What we are looking for each time we work on a new storytelling project is to create a high-impact story which the viewers will remember because it will be branded onto their skin,’ emphasizes the producer. ‘Virtual reality must not only be an empathy creating machine, but above and beyond that, it needs to trigger perplexity, a kind of confusion.’

@ Antonin Weber

We realise, of course, that in comparison with the intelligibility of these inspirational individuals, certain talks are a lot more niche and earmarked for specialist connoisseurs. We for example wondered what on earth was going on during the discussion moderated by Valentin Ducros for Fisheye Immersive (an entity of the eponymous magazine), with around the table several actors working within the digital and immersive arts based in Quebec. But that is also the beauty of the KIKK offer: allowing the most passionate amongst us to find something to get their teeth into, whilst others immerse themselves in the pathways they can identify with. Without the shadow of a doubt, with such a mouthwatering programme, the Festival has once again delivered.

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