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Successful in Delhi
Kafkaesque experiences

VRwandlung in Delhi
VRwandlung in Delhi | Foto: Sanyam Bajaj © Goethe-Institut New Delhi

Mika Johnson’s VRwandlung has been touring the world since the spring of 2018. Now the virtual reality version of the world classic by Franz Kafka is in the South Asia region. Its success is as huge as the insect into which it transforms participants.

By Erdmuthe Hacken

If you’re in Delhi and want to transform yourself into a monstrous insect with disgustingly long feelers and a thick shell, head to the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. Then follow the big beetle tracks on the floor towards the library. Once there, you can begin a special kind of virtual journey behind the spherical glowing black and blue by entering the room of Gregor Samsa, back in the year 1915.

Goose flesh at the mirror

VRwandlung is the virtual reality version of a world classic of German-language literature. Director Mika Johnson, who made a name for himself with documentaries and feature films and teaches at the Prague Film Academy, has staged Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis (1915) as an inspiring illusion for the eyes and ears. The detail will leave you in wonderment and give you goose flesh.
The narrow iron bed with rumpled linens, the slightly yellowed, peeling floral wallpaper, the papers scattered chaotically on the desk – you can literally breathe the bourgeois fug of a Prague flat of the early twentieth century. But your hair will stand on end when you step in front of the mirror and face a repugnant insect.

An ode to Franz Kafka

It’s not easy to find a programmer who can create such realistic, engrossing simulations, but Mika Johnson did. For seven weeks, 30 artists and experts worked on Gregor Samsa’s room. The graphic result is impressive and very appealing to young people and young adults who are familiar with video games.
But Mika Johnson, who travelled to South Asia for the launch, emphasises that VRwandlung actually has nothing to do with video games. For him, it is more an ode to Kafka than a gaming experience. This is precisely the point where he’s identified differences between East and West: While European audiences are more interested in interactive elements, in search of action, the Indian participants, for example, are more concerned about discovering the new virtual world, exploring the digital space. He’s curious to see if this observation is confirmed in his upcoming locations.
The installation will travel through India and the region until January 2020, stopping off in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. More than a year ago – in March 2018 – the project began at the Goethe-Institut in Prague and it’s a happy coincidence that its then institute and regional director, Dr Berthold Franke, is now head of South Asia.

Creepy and bizarre, but great

It makes you almost sad that the illusion is over after four minutes. Apparently many of the Indian visitors felt the same. “Most people immediately sign up for a second time,” says VRwandlung volunteer Lovlesh. This means that the slots are sold out quite quickly. “The rush is huge,” says Lovlesh.
The pages in the guest book also filled up quickly with consistently enthusiastic comments: “Great.” “Fantastic.” “Breath-taking.” “Creepy and bizarre, but great.” “Fascinating.” “Unforgettable.” “Exciting.” “Overwhelming.” “Superb.” “Captivating and thrilling.”

Pure metamorphosis

The reason is obvious: VRwandlung works for anyone who’s never read Kafka – and many of the mostly young Delhi visitors haven’t. But it also works for those who have: If you’ve read The Metamorphosis, there’s even more to discover in the installation. You become Gregor Samsa, the protagonist, the vermin.
It’s pure metamorphosis. A transformation as it was possibly imagined by Franz Kafka. Everyone can interpret it as they wish. What remains is a rather unique experience of your mind going to a place where your body isn’t. And your body is a monstrous insect.