William Kentridge / KABOOM!

William Kentridge 13 October - 10 November 2018 Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg

Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
13 October – 10 November 2018

KABOOM! wastes little time introducing itself. The title sets the scene for the exhibition, which largely draws on work produced for two recent performance projects by William Kentridge backdropped by war: the critically acclaimed The Head & the Load , which premiered at London’s Tate Modern in July, and the celebrated 2017 production of Alban Berg’s opera, Wozzeck .

The exhibition is organised around Kentridge’s ongoing interest in juxtaposing fragments for both coherent and absurdist ends. The result is a diverse display of work in several mediums including a new three-channel film installation related to The Head & The Load , never-before exhibited charcoal drawings used for projection in that production, as well as other drawings produced for the opera, Wozzeck . In addition, KABOOM! features composite drawings made for Kentridge’s recent performance of Kurt Schwitters’s 1932 sound poem, Ursonate , at Performa 17 in New York and a new set of bronze sculptures that form part of his Lexicon series.

‘Is it possible to tell a story without telling it through the story of one individual – the girl, the soldier, the hero, standing in for the whole war?’ says Kentridge, reflecting on the creative process behind The Head & The Load . For the artist, the answer to this question lies in ‘understanding history as fragmented’ and using this perspective to assemble various disparate pieces that help construct a ‘provisional understanding of the past.’

For his design of Wozzeck , Kentridge drew inspiration from documentary photographs depicting the ravaged First World War battlefields of Flanders. The opera, which premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2017, tells the story of a homicidal soldier – a tale brought to life by Kentridge through his characteristic charcoal drawings depicting bleak landscapes, denuded of their trees and scarred by shell craters.

During the production process for Wozzeck Kentridge brought together a group of local performers to workshop the material. ‘There were so many things not used,’ Kentridge recalls of the rehearsals, ‘so much left at the edge of the production… many of the items called to be looked at again, to be brought back onto stage.’ It was from those unused elements that Kentridge would begin development on his next project: The Head & the Load .

A play on the Ghanaian proverb, ‘the head and the load are the troubles of the neck’, this large-scale production expressively speaks to the nearly two million African porters and carriers used by the British, French, and Germans during the First World War in Africa. The Head & The Load takes the form of a processional musical journey and features an international ensemble cast of singers, dancers, and performers accompanied by a chorus of mechanized gramophones alongside multiple film projections and shadow play to create a landscape of immense proportion and imagination.

According to Kentridge, the project explores ‘the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by the circumstances of the war’. Among the various sources of text used to articulate this story, Kentridge drew on Schwitter’s Ursonate , which was written after the First World War, but remained indebted to the sound poems developed by the Dadaists during the Zurich cabarets in 1916. The work’s use in The Head & The Load speaks to ‘sound of a rational argument hiding a deep irrationality.’

Artworks

About

William Kentridge

William Kentridge’s artist website can be visited here and Instagram account here

William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1955. Kentridge’s artistic practice, expressionist in nature, is entirely underpinned by drawing. He is perhaps best known for his series of eleven animated films, Drawings for Projection, the earliest of which was completed in 1989 and the most recent of which will premiere in 2020. These hand-drawn films follow the narrative of fictional mining magnate, Soho Eckstein, his wife and her lover, Felix Teitlebaum. This saga is permeated with anecdotal elements from Kentridge’s own life and the political events, which unfolded in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy.

In addition to being an accomplished printmaker in his own right, Kentridge’s openness to collaboration has allowed him to produce rich and extensive series of kinetic sculptures, bronzes and hand-woven tapestries. His passion for the theatre has brought him to work, as creative director, on several acclaimed opera productions ranging from Mozart’s Magic Flute , to The Nose by Shostakovich (2010) and most recently two operas by Alban Berg, Lulu (2015) and Wozzeck (2017). Kentridge has also created a number of original performance pieces including Refuse the Hour (2012); Triumphs & Laments (2017) on the Tiber river in Rome; The Head & the Load (2018) and most recently, the chamber opera, Sibyl (2019).

Kentridge’s career has spanned five decades and his work has been shown in major museums and biennales, around the world since the 1990s, including Documenta in Kassel, Germany (1997, 2003, 2012), the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1998, 2010) and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2012), Musée du Louvre in Paris (2010), FORTUNA in Brazil (2013), Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art in China (2015), Whitechapel Gallery in London (2016), Louisiana Museum in Denmark (2017), Reina Sofia Museum in Spain (2017), Liebieghaus Museum in Germany (2018), Kunstmuseum Basel (2019), Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town (2019), and most recently MUDAM in Luxembourg (2021).

Kentridge is the recipient of honorary doctorates from several universities including Yale and the University of London. In 2012 he presented the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University. In 2013 he served as Humanitas Visiting Professor in Contemporary Art at Oxford University, and Distinguished Visiting Humanist at the University of Rochester, New York, and in 2015 he was appointed an Honorary Academician of the Royal Academy in London. In 2017 he received the Princesa de Asturias Award for the Arts, Spain, and in 2018, the Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize, Italy. Previous awards include the Kyoto Prize, Japan (2010), the Oskar Kokoschka Award, Vienna (2008), the Kaiserring Prize (2003), and the Sharjah Biennial 6 Prize (2003), among many others.

Kentridge is currently working towards major survey exhibitions at The Royal Academy in London for 2022, and The Broad Museum in Los Angeles.