Wednesday, 8 December 2010
'Breaking Character': on William Kentridge (Art21)
Watching a William Kentridge animated film is like being read a meandering story that the teller only half-remembers. Some parts of the tale are repeated, some are ditched, some take an unforeseen turn, and others accrue meanings the teller himself couldn’t have planned. As with many artists working within the shadow of a brutal historical situation – be it the Dada artists creating absurdist “anti-art” as World War I began or the Surrealist Max Ernst subverting linear plotlines in his collage-novels made during the birth of Nazism – Kentridge tinkers with the tools of narrative to create pointedly absurdist satire. The long shadow cast over Kentridge’s work is the history of apartheid in his native South Africa, which informs both his subject matter and his approach to its articulation. Things appear to make sense, then don’t. In Ernst’s 1933 collage-novel, Une Semaine de Bonté, for example, repeated visual motifs and chapter headings point to a coherence that’s never actually fulfilled, in a parody of the societal reorganization proposed by the then-ascendant Nazi party. Similarly, the reappearance in a number of Kentridge’s works of two characters, Soho Eckstein and Felix Teitelbaum, suggests an episodic structure to his body of work as a whole, but as with his artistic predecessors, subverting expectations has political meaning. For Kentridge, character is the crucible by which he explores the history of a national trauma.
Read the rest of the essay at Art21's new Kentridge website here.