The Insurance Man: Kafka in the Penal Colony

April 25 – June 27, 2009
SFU Gallery

The Insurance Man: Kafka in The Penal Colony is an installation based on Kafka’s story, which was itself derived from his reading a 1914 study of penal colonies in the South Seas. In the story a researcher-explorer arrives at a penal colony and is introduced to a curious apparatus comprised of a harrow, a designer, and a bed; the Officer who operates the apparatus lectures the Explorer about its workings. The subreality of everyday life in Prague and the inner world of office work were Kafka’s own ‘apparatus of reality’. He continually wrote about these parallel realities in letters, diaries, stories, office documents, manifestos, and aphorisms, all of which gave his inner world an intensely visual quality, merging life and art into a unified, fragmented whole. In the exhibition, the fable of the Colony is portrayed through objects, texts, and visual constructions shown as gestures representing the pre-history of Kafka’s report on the world as a chilling penal colony. The South Seas penal colonies here become a lexical metaphor for the 20th century’s concentration camps, asylum camps, and prison colonies.

The installation searches for Kafka’s ‘Secret Insurance Policy’ that enabled him to relate his life in writing to art, perhaps in the way that Walter Benjamin wrote of Kafka, as “one who compelled Expressionism to bear fruit, by pruning it according to wild linguistic drives.” This installation imitates both linguistic and visual drives: “I imitated people,” the ape says in Kafka’s ‘Report to an Academy,’ “because I was looking for a way out, and for no other reason”.

Curated by Jerry Zaslove and Bill Jeffries.


Curators’ Talk
Saturday, April 25, 2009, 2pm
On the origins and implications of the exhibition, in AQ 3003, the lecture hall adjacent to the SFU Gallery.
Followed by an opening reception in the Gallery, from 3-5pm.

Public Talk: The Search for Kafka’s Literary Legacy
Speaker: Kathi Diamant (renowned Kafka scholar)
Wednesday, May 6, 2009, 7pm
Room 7000, Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street.

Lunchtime Tours of the Exhibition
Tuesday, April 28, 12:05pm and 12:35pm
Thursday, April 30, 12:05pm and 12:35pm

Kafka Film Festival, June 22 – 25
Including Orson Welles’ The Trial, Michael Haneke’s The Castle, and Steven Soderbergh’s KAFKA, starring Jeremy Irons, Ian Holm, and Alec Guinness, plus award-winning animated short films.
Vancity Theatre, Vancouver International Film Centre, 1181 Seymour St., Vancouver.