Art Dictionary

William Kentridge

William Kentridge

Drawing for the film "medicine cabinet" (Self-Portrait), 2000/01
© San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift Mary and Harold Zlot John Hodgkiss

Biography

William Kentridge (*1955 in Johannesburg, South Africa) graduated from the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg with a degree in politics and African Studies in 1976. From 1976 to 1978 he studied printmaking at the Johannesburg Art Foundation. In 1981/82 he took pantomime and acting classes at the École internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecog in Paris. His work has been seen in many solo and group shows since the 1980s. Five Themes, for instance, was shown in 2010 at the MoMA in New York, the Jeu de Paume in Paris, and the Albertina in Vienna. Kentridge was a participant in the documenta X (1997) and Documenta11 (2002), and is now represented at the dOCUMENTA (13) (2012). He is the recipient of various prizes, including the 2003 Kaiserring from the City of Goslar, and the 2010 Kyoto Prize for Art and Philosophy. The artist lives and works in Johannesburg.

Books related to this subject

William Kentridge

William Kentridge
Fünf Themen

out of print
ISBN 978-3-7757-2633-7
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William Kentridge & Peter L. Galison

William Kentridge & Peter L. Galison
Die Ablehnung der Zeit

available
ISBN 978-3-7757-2858-4
» More information

€ 8.00Order now

William Kentridge & Peter L. Galison
Ebook

William Kentridge & Peter L. Galison
Die Ablehnung der Zeit(dOCUMENTA (13): 100 Notes - 100 Thoughts, 100 Notizen - 100 Gedanken # 009)

available
ISBN 978-3-7757-3038-9
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€ 4.99

History and Memory

“I have never tried to make illustrations of apartheid, but the drawings and films are certainly spawned by and feed off the brutalized society left in its wake. I am interested in a political art, that is to say and art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain endings." (William Kentridge)

The work of South African artist William Kentridge is determined by a profound confrontation with history and memory. His works—especially drawings, animated films, and multi-media performance pieces—mainly revolve around questions about the history and social reality of (South) Africa, the eras of apartheid and post-apartheid, colonialism and historical trauma. Yet Kentridge’s answers go beyond his homeland and its political turmoil and contain a universal message—they question simplified constructions of history, notions of perpetrators and complicity, guilt, and the process of mourning. In the process Kentridge abstains from “political interpretation” and a “moral/emotional judgment,” offering instead “a way to challenge everyone to confront the legacy of apartheid—and with questions that go beyond current or geographical relations: with questions of responsibility.” (F.A.Z.).

William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg and—according to his own statement—“never escaped” from his home town. Early on he was interested in the tumultuous history of his country and the continent, such as the kidnapping of millions of Africans who were shipped to America as slaves, or the conquering of African countries by large European powers. His father was one of the attorneys in demand in the fight against apartheid; racial segregation and its consequences were everywhere during Kentridge’s childhood.

“There was a fundamental change in this country. Nevertheless, it sometimes seems as if nothing has changed. It is as if the new South Africa has been painted over the old South Africa,” Kentridge once said. His animated films, which he’s been making since the 1980s, are testimonies to this “omnipresent past” (DIE ZEIT) and in a fascinating way make it possible to see the process of its creation: the artist uses thick black charcoal to draw an image, adding a “few dabs of color” (William Kentridge) here and there, and films it. The original image is then erased, drawn over, and filmed again—the marks left by the changes remain visible, emphasizing the non-erasable presence of history. “Stone-age filmmaking” is the way Kentridge himself describes the technology behind his films, which he develops without a screenplay or storyboard. Among his best-known works, which made Kentridge known internationally as a chronicler of the cruelties of apartheid are the animated films 9 Drawings for Projection, made between 1989 and 2003. Two fictional white characters play the main roles in them: “Soho Eckstein, the man in the business suit, who owns half of Johannesburg; and Felix Teitlebaum, a kind of nemesis, always drawn naked, more of a thoughtful character than an active one.” (William Kentridge).

Over the years Kentridge used his great inventiveness to broaden the spectrum of his media, techniques, and themes. Working with theater troupes, especially with the Handspring Puppet Company of Johannesburg, the artist blends his animated films with dolls, mechanical objects, and live performances to create multi-layered multimedia installations. He creates works that adapt classics from European literature, opera, and music: for instance, Kentridge was hired to direct and design the sets for a production of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Fluteat La Monnaie opera house in Brussels, and he used the opera as the starting point for a whole series of projects. In his film Ubu Tells the Truth(1997), based on Alfred Jarry’s drama, Ubu Roi, the artist depicted Ubu, the anti-hero, as a dark shadow—a technique that Kentridge continued to develop, along with his work with torn black construction paper or torn (and ultimately re-collaged) images. Stereoscope (1999) marked the beginning of Kentridge’s interest in three-dimensional vision; for this he used a split screen technique to imitate stereoscopic vision. In What Will Come (has already come) (2007), with its filmic anamorphosis, Kentridge went back to the sixteenth-century idea of the hidden face, or pareidolia, re-shaping images with the help of a metallic cylindrical mirror.

For now, the high point of his oeuvre is The Refusal of Time, a multimedia project developed in collaboration with the science historian, physicist, author, and filmmaker Peter L. Galison, for the dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, about changing concepts of time: “one of the most impressive experiences at the d13,” according to art magazine.

June 26, 2012 Stefanie Gommel

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