William Kentridge

‘The primary lie of all art is that you know it is an illusion even while you fool yourself’ – William Kentridge

The oeuvre of South African artist William Kentridge is a crucible of art, ideology, history and memory. ‘That which we do not remember’ at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) excavates key moments from the artist’s prolific practice and intricately interconnected projects, distiling the absurdity, terror, erasure and memory emanating from Kentridge’s experiences of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Featuring thirty-two works of diverse media – including sculpture, film, charcoal drawings, collage, sound and tapestry – the exhibition follows on from Kentridge’s commission at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in July 2018. Curated by the artist himself, it maps visual and conceptual coordinates across fifteen years of his practice: from his engagement with opera and interest in early cinema to his animated drawings, works on paper, sculpture and installation. Many of the works are drawn from the collection of arts patron Naomi Milgrom AO, who has a longstanding fascination with Kentridge’s practice and was intimately involved in the show’s planning. ‘I have been astounded since I first saw his colonial landscapes in charcoal and pastel, as well as his emotional film series Soho Eckstein in 2000’, explains Milgrom; ‘the way William melds opera and animation, drawing and language, texture and tapestry have ensured that he is an artist of immense dexterity and enduring complexity.’

The design of the presentation was conceived in collaboration with Brussels-based designer Sabine Theunissen, who has worked with Kentridge since 2005 on many of his theatre projects. It is an immersive and theatrical configuration, traversing light and shadow, texture and gesture. On entering the space, viewers are greeted with the titular work That which we do not remember (2017), a collage of twenty-nine woodcut prints that alludes to the blackened voids within history and memory. A recreation of Kentridge’s private studio space, or ‘safe space’ as he calls it, allows intimate access into the artist’s working methods. About his studio, Kentridge reflects, ‘The space within the artistic sphere is where it is understood that everything is a possible construction, and construction of the world rather than a revelation of the world.’ Within this installation is the earliest work in the exhibition, Drawing for Woyzeck on the Highveld (1992) – a charcoal study from Kentridge’s first collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company.

‘That which we do not remember’ also includes 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès, Day for Night and Journey to the Moon (2003) – Kentridge’s nine channel homage to early cinema pioneer Georges Méliès – paired with a mammoth collage of the same subject. An absurd political narrative is canvassed in the eight-channel video I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008), which was commissioned for the 16th Biennale of Sydney and generously gifted to the AGNSW by Anita Belgiorno-Nettis AM and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis AM. Another work, the flip-book animation Second-hand reading (2013), lodges the personal firmly within the political through drawings, text, and music depicting a political prisoner pacing in his cell.

There is a sense of the paradoxical in these works, a fusion of whispering intimacy and unspeakable brutality that draws you close whilst also making you aware of your unbreachable distance. A melange of materiality testifies to Kentridge’s proficiency and soaring creative eye. ‘In this world of illusions, there needs to be a material that one can think in quickly. This is something that I have learned through working across media, and it has informed my sculptural work. Even if a sculpture will end up in bronze, it needs to start in a material that allows for flexible, fast work,’ Kentridge comments.

Kentridge’s most recent opera project is a production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, created for the Salzburg Festival, Opera Australia, Canadian Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera of New York. Wozzeck will be staged in January 2019 at the Sydney Opera House.

William Kentridge | That which we do not remember
24 November 2018 – 3 February 2019
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney


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