In the preface to Louisiana Revy: William Kentridge Thick Time, Louisiana
s director Poul Erik Tøjner states: Everything is in motion for William Kentridge. Even when it stands still. His films unfold time, the instant expands, the past is drawn into the present and issues promises about the future, for who knows what motion will bring? ... It is the outside world that moves into Louisiana with cultural history and politics, with science and music, but with imagination and form as driving forces. Every single work in the exhibition, several of which are brand new, contains its own fable, and at the same time the exhibition is a universe we travel through, borne by a magical mover.
Louisianas major spring exhibition presents the South African artist William Kentridge (b. 1955). The exhibition focuses on prominent works from the period 2003-2016 with the emphasis on the large video installations that are characteristic of his work over the past 15 years. In these he combines his fondness for drawing, film and music with humour, empathy and poetry, with subjects such as the concept of time, colonial history and the Russian Revolution. The exhibition also shows a number of smaller film works, drawings, sculptures and machines. The artists late works mark a new departure in his oeuvre in which he connects the arts through moving images, words, music and stage design. The scene is set, in other words. And in the middle stands the viewer.
The works are all about us. About how we make the world comprehensible, and about the factors that condition our ability to see, understand and formulate our thoughts. About how we remember history, and how we forget it. About the ideologies religious, scientific and political to which we are subject, and which condition our conclusions about what we experience. In Kentridges artistic universe it is not possible to gain a general overview; only qualified truths, for doubt about what we see is a bearing element.
Installation and film in the exhibition
The exhibition is being shown in the West Wing of the museum, where the first thing encountered by the visitors is a prelude to the main focus of the exhibition consisting of ten films under the collective title Drawings for Projection (1989-2011) as well as a number of the drawings created in the process of making the films. This group of works contributed to Kentridges international breakthrough. The films, which deal with the years around the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, provide a good starting point for understanding Kentridges interest in revolution, utopia and memory.
Migrations and processions are recurring motifs. All the way from the breakthrough work, Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris (1989), to the latest installations, we see people, subsidiary figures in world history, wandering through existence. More Sweetly Play the Dance (2015) is Kentridges latest processional work. Men and women pass by in a danse macabre, accompanied by a merrily playing brass band. They are all there: farmers, workers, political demonstrators, refugees, prisoners, the sick, the faithful ... They carry all sorts of props such as banners, stacks of books, bathtubs, platforms, cages, typewriters, silhouettes of saints and much more. The objects provide small biographical details about the characters, their everyday life, their dreams and nightmares, and Kentridge shows us the figures half in shadow as if to point to their position in life.
The large installation The Refusal of Time (2012), which Louisiana acquired in 2015, shows the direction Kentridges oeuvre has taken in recent years. Far more than earlier, he mixes opera, theatre, literature, music, film, drawing, performance, sculpture and installation art in spatial mises-en-scène that combine stage with backstage, the hall where the audience normally sits with the orchestral pit. Creation, behaviour and experience are one interwoven process. The work has been created against the background of a dialogue between Kentridge and science historian Peter Galison about how the measurement of time, space and light has developed in parallel with the exploitation of resources and people all over the world.
A few years ago Kentridge staged Austrian composer Alban Bergs (1885-1935) unfinished opera Lulu at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This led to the computer-controlled model theatre Right Into Her Arms (2016) another example of how Kentridges work with theatre and opera productions is making an increasing impact on his art. The work combines scenes from the first act of the opera with music of the 1930s where the device he uses is a kind of sampling of various contemporary idioms on the musical and visual front linked with a condensation of the theme of the opera: the constitution of human desire. Right Into Her Arms is shown for the first time in connection with this exhibition tour.
7 Fragments For Georges Méliès, Day for Night and Journey to the Moon (2003) invite us into the artists studio: a magical space. Kentridge often refers to the studio as an extension of the head and a safe space for stupidity. A place for play and experiment, where the laws of the outside world do not apply. The broken can be made whole, the lost can be recaptured, the erased can be called forth again. In this space the smallest can be set alongside the greatest: the ants on a kitchen table can become the starry firmament. The work is an hommage to one of the greatest innovators in film history, French Georges Méliès (1861-1938), known among other things for the film A Journey to the Moon (1902). At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century Méliès also made a succession of experimental films that explored the potential of film and cultivated the magical and illusionistic at the heart of the medium. For example Méliès ran shots backwards, one of the tricks Kentridge himself is fond of using, not least in this work.
The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is the main figure in the work O Sentimental Machine (2015). The title refers to Trotskys statement that human beings are sentimental, programmable machines, which prompts Kentridge to subject him to humorous treatment and transform the Russian icons head into a megaphone one of the most central motifs in Kentridges oeuvre. In the work Kentridge sets Trotskys statements against the human striving for love, a striving that undermines the trumpeted message. The revolution fails as long as humans fall in love.
Kentridges world is full of books. He refers to literary works, he draws on the pages of books, he cuts them up or pastes new words onto the pages. In Second-hand Reading (2013) the artist has filled an old reference work with new words and images: the megaphone, the landscape of Johannesburg, people on foot, the artist himself, the dirty traces of charcoal on the pages of the book, typewriters, an espresso pot, a globe, motivic metamorphoses and all these statements, self-contradictions, fragments of poetry: ALL THE TREES IN THE LIBRARY, RETURN TO THE PARTICULAR MOMENT, WHILST SETTING THE ALARM, END WITH LOVE, UNHAPPEN. Central to all is the statement: WHICHEVER PAGE YOU OPEN, THERE YOU ARE. As in all of Kentridges works the viewer is a central player. The work is an associative dance of words and images that arise during the reading and take us to new places.
Besides the large installations and film works described above, the exhibition is showing a wide range of sculptures, objects and drawings, including a series of drawings made specifically for the exhibition