Jacob Porat - Conversations with Kafka

Opening speech, Prague, 19 January, 2004

Saying I am not excited would be untrue…

The opening of an exhibition is always an exciting event for an artist - for every artist - to the best of my knowledge. For me personally this exhibition has all the more reasons for making me especially excited as it deals with and is devoted entirely to Franz Kafka, and it takes place in his city, Prague, where he spent most of his life and where he wrote his works.

Moreover: Johannes Urzidil - whose name I hope I pronounce correctly - a writer in his own right and a friend of Kafka - wrote:

"And yet Kafka was Prague and Prague was Kafka. Never had it been Prague so perfectly, so typically, as during Kafka's lifetime, and never would it be so again. And we, his friends, 'the happy few'...we knew that the smallest elements of this Prague were distilled everywhere in Kafka's work."

I would like to open with hearty thanks to all the people who have toiled and taken the trouble to make all the necessary arrangements to realize this exhibition: to Mr. Arthur Avnon, Israel's Ambassador in Prague, who encouraged me to visit the city again and consider putting up an exhibition. To Mr. Valid Abu Haya, second secretary - together with Ms. Dana Wagnerova - that looked after the necessary procedures. And of course to Ms. Nada Polakova, the representative of the Czech Ministry of Culture and the director of this gallery, who in our first meeting last April has promptly expressed her wish to hold my exhibition in this place and has arranged my works professionally and with a lot of talent.

Now I would like to say a few words about the background and the theme of this exhibition:

I became acquainted with Franz Kafka, the subject matter of this exhibition, long before I have visited his town, Prague. My first significant encounter with Kafka was in my first year in the Department of Literature in Tel Aviv University (quite a long time ago) in the course of a seminar that dealt with another important writer – Agnon. As you may well know, Shmuel Yossef Agnon - at the age of 78 years - and Nelly Sachs won the Nobel Prize of literature together in 1966. [A side remark: Agnon was most probably inspired by Kafka - although he refused to admit it…he was once asked whether he was acquainted with Kafka’s writings and his response – with his special sense of humor - was: I’ve never read Kafka although my wife did…].

It was at that time that I read Kafka's "The Trial".

This first encounter with Kafka's novel was a revelation for me… What astounded me the most – or so it seems in retrospect - was the revolutionary narration of this novel, which I have never before met until that time. I refer to the enormous gap and contradiction between the epic serenity in which Kafka tells his story, making use of quite a few elements of humor, and the unreasonable and arbitrary reality and existence, which he presents in this epic tranquility, with no sign of pathos or excitement, as if it were obvious.

Much later I read a description of this Kafka way of narration in Milan Kundera's book of essays - "The Betrayed Wills". Relating to a specific scene from "The Castle", Kundera wrote: "This scene, which has an immense comic poetry […] would have been inconceivable in the time before Kafka. In no way would it be imaginable. The fact that I repeat this insight is meant to underline how radical Kafka's aesthetic revolution has been." Kundera goes on to quote Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has told him 20 years earlier: "It was Kafka who made me realize that writing differently is possible." Kundera interprets Marquez' "different" as "Crossing the border of reasonableness not in order to escape from reality (as the romanticists did) but in order to grasp it better."

As for Prague: as mentioned earlier, I have met Prague many years after I have become acquainted with Kafka's writings. It was in February 2000 that I arrived in Prague very acutely aware that I am about to visit Kafka's city but with no plans for preparing an exhibition about him. It was only when I returned to Israel, having looked at the photographs I have taken in Prague and having digested the visit that the idea developed, and the works began piling up quickly.

In May 2001, 15 months after my first visit in Prague, I opened my first exhibition on this theme under the kind auspices of the Czech Embassy in Israel and the honorable Ambassador Mr. Daniel Kumermann.

And a last remark:

Not only were the works in the present exhibition created with a complete lack of the slightest intention of illustrating specific writings by Franz Kafka, they do not even seek to provide an interpretation for his specific works. This is the reason that none of the works has a title [or in other words, that the title of each and every one of the works is “untitled”]. On the other hand, I did have a premeditated aspiration, which I hope I have succeeded in attaining, to present in them and through them the Kafka being, which his writings emit, the way I understand it. More than anything else, I have tried to present the humor (usually bitter and ironical) as well as the terror that emanate from his works.

Even so, my testimonial about the paintings creation process in no way contradicts the possibility that visitors might detect in my works elements that relate somehow to specific Kafka's works. This would be legitimate from any point of view, because from the moment a work of art – be it a painting, a novel or any work of art in whatever medium - sees light, it becomes an object that everyone is entitled and capable of interpreting. The creator has no privilege or advantage in terms of interpretation over other people, who are not the creators. I will not tire you with the reasoning for this assertion, as the time this would take far exceeds the time I have already forced you to spend listening to my speech.

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