Goodman Gallery Johannesburg
1 October – 12 November
The making of each film was the discovery of what each film was. A first image, phrase, or idea would justify itself in the unfolding of images, phrases, and ideas spawned by the work as it progressed. The imperfect erasures of the successive stages of each drawing become a record of the progress of an idea and a record of the passage of time. The smudges of erasure thicken time in the film, but they also serve as a record of the days and months spent making the film – a record of thinking in slow motion.
- William Kentridge
City Deep is the anticipated 11th film in Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection series, a collection of animated films drawn over 30 years,featuring the protagonist Soho Eckstein. South Africa’s political transition from the violent years of apartheid to democracy sets the scene for a saga of loss, love, anger, compassion, guilt and forgiveness. The films revolve around the power-hungry mining magnate Soho Eckstein, his wife Mrs. Eckstein and her lover, the solitary artist Felix Teitlebaum. As the story unfolds, Soho’s empire crumbles as he comes to terms with his own frailties and the first signs of mortality.
Like previous films in the series, City Deep is grounded within Kentridge’s home city of Johannesburg and can be viewed as a counterpoint to the 1990 film, Mine, which depicts images of the deep level mining industry. City Deep extends this depiction to the informal, surface-level “zama zama” miners of current day Johannesburg. Translated from Zulu as ‘try your luck’ or ‘take a chance’, “zama zama” is the name given to the miners who illegally work decommissioned mines on the edges of the formal mining economy. Manual labour replaces large machines, creating open scars in the Highveld landscape.
In City Deep, the “zama zama” miners and the landscape merge into artworks hanging in the Johannesburg Art Gallery, itself built during the heyday of gold mining in Johannesburg. Wandering the exhibition spaces is a deeply contemplative Soho gazing at the artworks and into vitrines. Towards the end of the film the gallery collapses in on itself, an imagined demise of an institution in a state of increasing dereliction.
The exhibition will also include drawings from Kentridge’s new publication, Waiting for the Sibyl, as well as the third in a series of bronze sculptures, which take the form of a visual lexicon, aptly titled Cursive. The drawings for Waiting for the Sibyl were produced in preparation for the opera of the same name, which premiered at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in September 2019.
Cursive brings together an accumulation of elemental symbols or ‘glyphs’ within Kentridge’s broader practice. Functioning as a form of a visual dictionary, the glyphs can be arranged in order to construct sculptural sentences, and re-arranged to deny meaning. As Kentridge says, they are a way of weighing one’s words.
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.