All meaning was erased in the interim: metaphors, action, themes and quests with William Kentridge

Posted: January 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

William Kentridge: Five Themes

William Kentridge, Drawing From "Zeno Writing" 2002

It was in the year 1989 that William Kentridge completed his first animated work Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris as part of a series of works titled Drawings for Projection. Here he formed what was to be seen as a early trademark of his animated work by the use of successive charcoal drawings on a single sheet of paper and through the application of shading, line and, most importantly, erasure built up the surface of the drawing and gave motion to the animation. Motivations, metaphors, and actions represented in the animations were formed in the tenuous morphological logic between the thing (line), destruction (erasing), and the traces left haunting on the paper. This intersection of techniques for Kentridge was a formal artistic means to create a dark mirror for the sociology and politics of the era. Grabbing a hold of the subjects of oppression and totalitarianism, Kentridges material application and erasure indicate and highlight, while simultaneously deconstructing, the plight of a world forsaking its soul for power and tyranny.  Yet Kentridges work, then as now, avoids a heaviness of sadness and stasis of complaint by exploring the reverie of the real and the lyrical set against the machine of class existence. How to do this is a balancing act of subtle proportions which Kentridges carries out admirably: “I am interested in a political art — an art [and a politics] in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay.”  Working from this inkling of concern Kentridge has developed an oeuvre which includes (along with his drawings, prints and animations) installations, performances, and objects.

Composed of over 60 works the “Five Themes” exhibition is a relevant and fairly exhaustive survey of Kentridge’s work and has a slew of the varied and alternative mediums which the artist came to employed during this long career. The exhibition says that it explores five primary themes in Kentridge’s art and goes from his early work in the 1980s up to the present.

William Kentridge – Weighing… and Wanting (1997)

From the mid 90s, Kentridge created a series of animations which explored the new groundings of a post-apartheid South Africa. “Felix in Exile” (1993) has as its major figure Felix, a perplexed and fumbling man (who was obviously part of the oppressive class of South Africa) whose life meets with Nandi, a African women, who’s presence in the reflecting mirror challenges the position of Felix in his self design and the devastation his life and oppressions visited on country and people.

Soho Eckstein, a reoccurring and iconic figure of the displaced upper class, first appears in ”History of the Main Complaint” (1996) where he wanders the forsaken and ruined landscape of his own manufacture. “Weighing and Wanting,” finds Soho Eckstein enmeshed in a bubble of existential alienation which he first foisted upon the world through the machinations of commerce and class oppressions but now which has trapped him as well.

Soho being ironically (and sadly) entangled in the alienations and separations his world has shaped is compelled to a judgment which finds its focus on him and the terrible social schemes he so readily embraced: “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; your kingdom has come to an end.”  In  WEIGHING…and WANTING, Kentridge moved from the erasures and absences of his earlier production to the “wipe,” where scenes came to displace one another in a filmic language context and came to represent the social movements manifest in the South African experience and the complexity of redemption for some in the new order.

William Kentridge “What Will Come” 2007

Anamorphic painting, or Anamorphosis, is a succinct and special reevaluation of the single point perspective grid and the intertwined valuations of seeing and the truth. The single point perspective view (mapped out in by the grid on the surface of an artpiece which reiterated a unified departure point for (all) truth evaluation) gave a structure and visual form to a universalizing tendency of ideals which was seen as a privileged and correct position.  By means of the diffusion of perspectives, and a multiplicity of possible viewing positions to be “correct”, the anamorph brought the privileged point of view into critique. Kentridge uses the dispersion and displacements of the anamorphic surface and the mechanisms of motor and mirror to replace single evaluations with a diffused field of sights. As Kentridge says: “I’m interested in machines that make you aware of the process of seeing and aware of what you do when you construct the world by looking. This is interesting in itself, but more as a broad-based metaphor for how we understand the world”.

William Kentridge – Shadow Procession 2000

Shadow Procession shows us a disquieting pilgrimage of black figures compelled to a forced exodus and weighted beyond rest with chairs, sacks, animals and a host of domestic objects. Bent and deformed, in obvious expulsion from land and hope, the figures trudging through the screen in this shadow play is not of entertainment and leisure but is instead a play of war and famine, grind and violence. The passage of the figures, though slightly referential to the Apartheid of South Africa, is a flight of the powerless from the displacements foisted upon them by the powerful which continues to unfold daily in the world we have created and accept to persist for Kentridge.

I Am Not Me, the Horse is Not Mine 2009

William Kentridge, in this brief performance “I Am Not Me, the Horse is Not Mine” constructs a devious and enlightening “meta-performance”.  The performance, placed before the viewer here, refers not to itself, but revolves around issues and ideal formations which inform the process and “becoming” of another of his works (in progress) “The Nose” (Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich) based upon Nikolai Gogol’s satirical and ominous short story. Intervening on the structure of action and internal consistency of the event, this performance explores how a multitude of languages, and a variety of concerns, impinge and inform both objects and context regardless of intention and meaning.

William Kentridge,  The Nose  2010

William Kentridge talks about his 2010 production of Shostakovich’s THE NOSE, with many short clips showing the form of animation, and influences used in the Opera (Met. New York).

William Kentridge. Drawing from "Stereoscope" 1998–99


William Kentridge  (1955-  , South Africa)                                                                                                                                             Exhibition:    Five Themes

Through 2011-01-30                                                                                                                                                                          ALBERTINA       Vienna, Austria Hurry up!

  1. maaretta says:

    I vaguely remember seeing one of Kentridge’s videos in the “Moderna Museet” in Stockholm four years ago. He was featured in an exhibition of African artist called “Africa Remix”. Didn’t quite understand he’s work back then, but now after re-looking at his work on his site, I can say Kentridge seems quite interesting.
    Funny that they made an Opera out of Gogol’s “The Nose”. Kinda an unusual story to make an entire opera/musical based on. Kentridge must be a major fan of Gogol’s work.
    / Maaretta

    • hapstance says:

      Yes Kentridge’s work has developed in interesting ways, but seems to hold a common kernel which makes the developments unfold in a medium/logical way and makes them fairly recognizable without becoming a simplistic artists signature.

      The differences are more obvious in the fluctuations of the political content of the pieces and is where variations are more pronounced and noticeable.

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