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William Kentridge. More Sweetly Play the Dance (Audio + Miniguide)

William Kentridge (b. 1955, Johannesburg) has been making art for more than four decades.

Anchored in the practice of drawing, his extensive oeuvre encompasses filmed animation, performance, theatre and opera. This exhibition is the first of its kind in presenting Kentridge’s artistic production alongside works for stage and opera for the red bridge project – a collaboration between Mudam Luxembourg, the Philharmonie Luxembourg and the City of Luxembourg’s Grand Théâtre.

Known for his animated films that employ charcoal drawings made through a distinctive process of erasure and recovery, Kentridge moves across and between mediums and disciplines in a dynamic play of deconstruction and recomposition of visual forms. His work is resolutely narrative in its treatment of themes connected to history, time and the importance of absurdity in a world of pronounced certainties. Kentridge addresses these subjects through the lens of his native South Africa.

Presented are drawings, sculptures, sound and film works that reveal the artist’s continued meditation on history and subjectivity, and on the construction of meaning, through images, language, sound, and time. In Kentridge’s universe, time is historic, geological, cinematic, and, especially, the time of the studio.

East Gallery

The works presented here highlight the interconnected and transformative nature of Kentridge’s artistic processes and their foundations in the practice of drawing. The film Sibyl (2020) and the series of drawings Waiting for the Sibyl (2019) are related to his most recent work for stage, the opera of the same name. The motif of the oak leaf is related to the prophesies of the Cumaean Sibyl, a priestess in Greek and Roman mythology. The floating sheets of paper are inspired by the Sibyl in Dante’s Inferno (1303–1321), whose books were filled with the knowledge of the world. The trees in the large-scale brushed ink drawings, the making of which involved an intuitive sequence of operations, from fragmentary sketches on pages, to collage and assemblage, serve as emblems of knowledge, while the book pages overwritten with slogans point to the fragmentation of knowledge amidst the sloganeering of pronounced certainties.

City Deep (2020) is the eleventh in Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection series set amidst the crumbling world of the once prosperous mining city of Johannesburg. The location is the Johannesburg Art Gallery as it slowly collapses around the suited figure of businessman Soho Eckstein. Kentridge’s lines and erasures lead us into the landscape of zama zamas, illegal surface miners whose shallow excavations morph into graves. The red lines and annotations that we can appreciate in the still drawings are an indication of the cinematic time of the drawings and their states of processes and flux.

Kentridge’s sculptures bridge his practices of drawing, films and works for stage. They reprise themes such as the procession, figures of once everyday objects, and language. Kentridge has described these motifs and figures as being like characters from the popular Italian theatre form, commedia dell’arte, called upon to perform in different works. The cast includes the telephone, the coffee-pot, the typewriter, the megaphone. Created from simple material – torn cardboard and twisted metal – their contours are improvised, ideogrammatic. Painted bronze Roman Heads (2014), which look to the cubism of Picasso (b. 1881, Malaga – d. 1973, Mougins), retain the improvised material aesthetic of their construction. The large papier-maché Prop for The Nose (2016), is part of a series inspired by the satirical opera by Dmitri Shostakovich (b. 1906, Saint Petersburg – d. 1975, Moscow) The Nose (1930), first directed by Kentridge in 2010 for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Questions of language and meaning are at the core of the small sculptures that make up Rebus. Literally, ‘two images held in one object,’ they are, for Kentridge ‘hieroglyphs of sorts, in which an invitation is extended to the viewer to make sense of nonsense’.

West and Small West Galleries

Kentridge has said: ‘The image of a procession of people carrying their baggage is both a contemporary and immediate image and one deeply rooted in our psyches.’ More Sweetly Play the Dance (2015) was staged and filmed in Kentridge’s studio in downtown Johannesburg. The figures that populate his procession are saints and heroic figures, revolving dancers from African churches, a brass band, ‘spade dancers’ from the mines, and the marginalised and the intravenous drip-carrying figures evoking the HIV/ AIDS and Ebola crises in sub-Saharan Africa. They are led from left to right by the tutu-skirted dancer Dada Masilo who performs movements from Swan Lake (1877), Carmen (1875) and the medieval tradition of the Dance of Death. Their passage is accompanied by the haunting music of a church brass band. The mining landscape and skies of the once rich capital of Johannesburg, evoked in blurred and rubbed charcoal lines, serves as backdrop.

Shadows occupy an important place in Kentridge’s oeuvre. Allegories of the march of history, their origins are related to the silhouetted figures of puppet theatre. For Kentridge: ‘It is in the limitations and leanness of shadows that we learn to complete an image, that we perform a generative act.’ The projected shadows of the revolving sculpture Construction for Waiting for the Sibyl (2019) is in part a response to the mobile sculptures of Alexander Calder (b. 1898, Lawnton – d. 1976, New York). There is also a relationship to earlier shadow projections that Kentridge created for theatre productions. Kentridge has described the effect of watching his moving image-objects as ‘meaning at the edge of coming into being’.

Great Hall

Almost Don’t Tremble (2019) is conceived by Kentridge as a sculpture made from the songs and sounds that fill the museum’s central hall through four giant megaphones. In Kentridge’s visual universe, the megaphone is associated with South Africa’s apartheid era of resistance, and the proto-technologies of sound recordings and cinema. The monumental silhouette of a tree (Shadow, 2021) from a drawing by Kentridge adds to the sense of being in a landscape, haunted by the grasslands of South Africa but, through the many evocations of music and image, is of our own making.

Vue de l'exposition "William Kentridge. More Sweetly Play the Dance", 13.02 – 30.08.2021, Mudam Luxembourg