Artwork: William KEntridge, O Sentimental Machine, 2015. 5-channel video installation with four megaphones, HD video, sound 9:55 minutes
William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1955 and grew up under the system of apartheid. His grandfather was a member of Parliament for 40 years; his parents were both lawyers who defended victims of the regime handling historic cases including the inquest into the Sharpeville Massacre, the death of Steve Biko, and one of the trials of Nelson Mandela.
With the politics of his country an everyday part of his life, Kentridge could not affect cognitive dissonance that so many to enjoy their privileges free from the burden of responsibility of being complicit in a corrupt and unjust system based on the exploitation and oppression of their fellow wo/man. Instead Kentridge, who exhibited tremendous promise as an artist from an early age, was steeped in the knowledge of the socio-political climate of the times and explored the dark duality of humanity in his work.
“I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain ending—an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism at bay,” Kentridge told Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev in 1998, for Societé des Expositions du Palais de Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles.
His work embodies the deeper, underlying condition of the human psyche itself, allowing him to engage and disengage with the issues affecting South Africa from an intellectual and aesthetic distance. In doing so he has created a body of work that combines philosophical ideas with visual metaphors to tremendous effect in a wide array of media including drawings, films, lecture performances, and opera and theater productions. Using sources from philosophy, literature, and early cinema, Kentridge creates spellbinding environments where powerful stories of human drama unfold.
William Kentridge: Thick Time, the artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK in over 15 years, is on view at Whitechapel Gallery, London, now through January 15, 2007. The exhibition features six large-scale installations created between 2003 and 2016 that address the difficult subjects including history of colonialism, the aspirations and failures of revolutionary politics, and the migrant crisis, as well as unexpected topics such as relativity and time travel.
Among the installations are O Sentimental Machine (2015), originally commissioned for SALTWATER, 14th Istanbul Biennial, where it was installed in one of Istanbul’s oldest hotels, the Hotel Splendid Palas, making its UK debut at Whitechapel. The work offers Kentridge’s critique of Leon Trotsky’s notion that people are “sentimental but programmable machines,” featuring subtitled videos of speeches by Trotsky projected on to glass doors, allowing the viewer the opportunity to observe what is going on behind the closed doors.
The exhibition also features Second-hand Reading (2013) a flip-book film, that shows Kentridge walking through the ages of his work. Here we see his drawings brought to life, becoming vehicles for action once they shed their material form. In this way, Kentridge reminds us of the ever-changing nature of life and our ability to build upon the foundations we create to achieve new heights.
Also of particular note are the mural-scale tapestries based on his opera production of Shostakovich’s The Nose and a set model which reveals his working process on the opera production Lulu (2016), which he is directing at English National Opera. Taken as a whole, William Kentridge: Thick Time is a spectacular exhibition that reveals the many ways in which art can be used to examine and engage with the challenges, complexities, and absurdities of life.
All artwork: Courtesy William Kentridge, Marian Goodman Gallery, Goodman Gallery and Lia Rumma Gallery.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.