aStoning and violence fill up View Royal Academy Survey Johannesburg-born artist William Kentridge. Glimpses of hanging and torture, sex in the pool, and old shots of a white hunter jumping toward the rhino he just dropped in order to give it a final shot in the head. The ampersand turns into a gallows and body parts are dumped away in the bathroom. Shots of choppy opera, fading African song and paranoid voices on the phone fill the air, along with the usual chime of a miner’s hammer against a rock. Kentridge show full of sounds and fury.
Now in his late 60s, Kentridge has spent more than half his life living under apartheid. The system itself and the complexities of its implications were his main themes. The artist’s parents were lawyers and played prominent roles in defending human rights and those accused of treason.
The artist walks in one direction, then the other. Back and forth, between one idea and another. Kentridge wanders between the drawing and the camera, in order to record what he has just drawn and to pause himself before returning to the charcoal image, in order to swipe or rub something away, transform part of the movement and to add some new elements, to animate the action. The successive changes to the drawn image eventually become the sequences of his primitive animated films, which develop intuitively with a sense of inevitability. If there is no solution, it is because there is no solution; His animations are less stories than situations.
The presentation of RA is necessarily fragmented and incomplete, full of stops and starts. Tracing the development of his art from the 1980s to the present, drawing plays the primary role, and also includes animation, performance illustrated, sculpture, and sometimes works that incorporate all of these elements together. Kentridge has gone to work on stage, design and direction Large-scale opera and other theatrical performances around the world. Some motifs are repeated all over the place – the loudspeaker, the coffee pot on the stove, the old typewriter, the camera, the trees and foliage and the pages of books, as well as a host of characters, including the artist himself, lumbering, bald, aging, playing the character as much as It is a work creator.
Kentridge’s early animations were cruel, full of sarcasm and biting, as he delved into the inequality and brutality of apartheid and the white culture that supported it. This was their main theme, as well as being made of drawings that are themselves filthy with coal dust – mysterious tales told in filthy materials. Their worldliness can also conjure up the filth of corruption, and the scent of his creation Soho Ecksteinhis cigar, his tongue walking between his wife’s legs, his greed and ugliness; Views of a poor land full of graves, the dirt of a mine and the debris of a museum collapsing in on itself. A number of these projected films, made between 1989 and 2020, fill a large, semi-dark theater. There’s no respite and plenty to take and follow as we go from movie to movie, from one set of seats to the next, with drooping cone speakers drooping, sound leaking and urgent images painted in charcoal.
Real estate developer and mining magnate Eckstein, a recurring character in his chalk-striped suit, is a scandalous cartoon, generally in a world where the African National Congress has finally been granted legitimacy and his world is on edge. His rival in love, Felix Teitelbaum, is another alternative to Kentridge himself. In another movie, we find one hero (it’s uncertain which one we see) hiding behind a newspaper on a beach chair, and uniformed characters overlooking him on the balcony. There is a baptism in the waves with black devotees. And carrots enter and disappear, time retreats and advances, and optimism disappears. Kentridge’s graphic and animated novels are unfinished and unresolved situations, filled with the mystery of the South African novelist. GM Coetzee He called, writing about the artist’s first films, “the troubled, amnesic white South African psyche.” This is the subject of the artist, his subject as much as the subject of his heroes.
In another exhibition, Kentridge painted directly on the walls: a camera on a tripod, a rhinoceros, loud speakers and a radio, while in the center of the space is the artist’s moving copy of the writer. Invention of Alfred Jarry Père Ubu pricks, and eventually gouges out his victim’s eye. Animation lends itself to depicting a real eye sparkling and terrifying. Malak Gari Obo has become an agent of the security forces whose wall painting tells us that his wife thinks he might be having an affair, but is relieved to learn that he was only torturing and killing suspected political activists. We don’t meet Obo’s wife unless that gelatinous eye seeks to reveal the truth. The whole story, which we have learned, is developed as a play, Ubu and the truth commission, written by Jane Taylor, a longtime collaborator with Kentridge, directed by the artist and shown in 1997 at the Market Theater Lab in Johannesburg. Ubu Tells the Truth is the vignette, and the accompanying murals, engravings, and drawings in Another Room don’t really explain it.
Even more successful and visually compelling is 2005’s Black Box/Chamber Noir, a mechanical theater with robotic puppets, animated backgrounds, and a screened movie. When sitting and watching the action on their small stage, it is often difficult to distinguish between a live show, albeit mechanical, and filmed projection. One can believe in it just as much, as the work delves into the violent suppression and genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia in 1908 by the German colonial armed forces. The most disturbing aspect of Black Box is its allure, the quality of childlike wonder that is evident in this mini-game world, its gruesome theme and its sitcom. And here comes the Big White Hunter, and the rhinoceros descends.
Then there are the textiles, drawn from ancient maps, detailing the division of the continent by the great powers of Europe in the 19th century, and a three-screen film based on the opera created by Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Cheng during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Kentridge takes the action to South Africa, where a black ballerina dances with a flag and a rifle, in a work that hints at Chinese economic colonization in present-day Africa. Elsewhere in the gallery, we meet Kentridge in his studio. Standing next to himself, the same divided by a simple cinematic trick. They both wear identical clothes, both are bald, and both with pince-nez on the black ribbon. Kentridge the artist is sitting at his desk, surrounded by his drawing materials and the tools of his trade. At his side stands an arrogant superego, scolding and taunting like a school principal in his slow, sluggish personality. Welcome the moments of humor here. And here he is again, an animated, hand-drawn Kentridge, walking between the chapters of Bras Copas’ posthumous memoir, by 19th-century Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis, flashing beneath him. Kentridge is on the move, then, not going anywhere.
The Best Comes Finally, a movie called Divination based on the opera Chamber (Waiting for the fortune teller) commissioned by the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome in 2019. Screened behind a semi-open theater, we are at the entrance to the underworld, where the freaks leave questions, written on tree leaves, asking their fate for divination to answer. She also wrote her responses on the foliage, but no one could tell who her answers were directed at. Divination at Kentridge blends animation and illustrated shadow theatre, using drawing and projected life-size actors. Sculptures become checkered silhouettes and silhouettes become graphics. Figures become trees and trees become birds. Charming transformations. A lonely dancer, frantic and passionate, he transforms into a Goya drawing, a bird, an electric fan. Trees dance on a greatly enlarged page along with the often enigmatic divination answers. “You will live longer than a horse but no longer than a crow.” “Begin to die, diligently, wisely, with optimism. Don’t waste time.” Screens fall and turn and fold over each other, and people cycle through scraps of paper blown by the wind, as if in a storm. The papers say “algorithm starvation”, and “the execution site is never empty”. Beautiful voices rise and fall in music composed by Nahlanhla Mahlangu and Kyle Shepherd. Relentless, dizzy and startled, I unexpectedly found myself among this play of illusions and shadows. Divination is Kentridge at its best.