Drawing for Love Songs from the Last Century

William Kentridge
Drawing for Love Songs from the Last Century, 2017
Charcoal and collage on paper
Work: 115 x 582 cm

Reflecting on the practice of drawing in his seminal book, Six Drawing Lessons, Kentridge notes; “Drawing has the potential to educate us about the most complex issues of our time” he offers further; “Charcoal and paper are not perfect substances. Charcoal can be erased easily, but not perfectly. The paper is tough and can be erased, redrawn, erased, and still hold its structure — but not without showing its damage. The erasure is never perfect.” Drawing for Love Songs from the Last Century is a charcoal drawing of the Johannesburg landscape. The drawing was created alongside the 360-degree film Love Songs for the Last Century, which was made as one element of the Invisible exhibition shown at the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg, in October 2017. The Invisible Exhibition was an exhibition in which 27 Johannesburg artists were invited to make works that could be experienced through augmented and virtual reality (VR) technologies. The film is in fact an entirely analogue film but is viewed using a virtual reality headset. In making the film, a five-meter charcoal and pastel drawing of a landscape was curved into a cylinder with a 360-degree camera placed at the bottom of the cylinder. A variation of phrases was mounted on cardboard and once the camera was turned on, the texts were placed and moved while Kentridge ran around the cylinder dropping different words and elements into it. Long time musical collaborator Joanna Dudley participated in the experiment, singing and whistling. Black tissue paper confetti was added and the studio fan was pressed into service. Only after this filming process was a computer brought in, first to stitch the images of the camera together, to edit and finally to translate the imagery into VR. The film is about regret —about phrases that hover at the edge of making sense. What makes it an utterly different experience from watching a single screen film is the viewer's participation, not in making the film, but in reading it — the need to swivel in the chair from one side to the other, to activate the conversation. The film also functions as a test of what a performance of actors might be, if they were placed around the viewer, such that the viewer has to shift their view to follow the action that happens around them.