William Kentridge in Eye


The friend with whom I went to the exhibition was lovesick. He couldn’t stop reading her last message. In essence it said she didn’t want anything to do with him anymore, but he kept hoping that he could read interpret it differently if he kept re-reading it often enough. To make things worse she had made two new male friends on facebook the day before, they looked good in their pictures. I said that maybe some art would help.

Does art ever help? The parents of William Kentridge were anti-apartheid activists. He himself wanted to become an artist, but an engaged artist. In the installation he made especially for Eye (More Sweetly Play The Dance) the visitor walks past enormous video projections, 45 meters long, in which a life-size procession of archetypical characters and typical Kentridge characters progresses. They are filmed people who refer by their costumes, masks and way of moving to a.o. : AIDS victimes, politicians, rebels, and African dancers, against a background of Willam Kentridges charcoal drawn, barren and windy landscape. The music is loud and immersive. When the visitor enters he walks against the direction of the procession, and when he leaves he walks with the procession.

Kentridge makes work in which African history recurs, but the actual subject is history itself, how we don’t learn anything from it. It is hard to accept that there is suffering and injustice and an individual can’t directly change this.

Show how it is or how it can/should be. Make art for the museum, or for the street. Be specific, or make it universal. All choices the engaged artist has to make with consideration for two different goals: changing the world, and making a good artwork.

To me the world seems too big a mountain and art too small a shovel to change anything. Where to start? More importantly there is the pitfall of ending up using other people’s suffering only for inspiration and justification, and not trying to battle it anymore. My own suffering I do use for inspiration, it is more manageable and I feel (maybe wrongfully) that I can change it. In fact I already change it by using it as fuel.

Kentridge says (in Kunstuur, 26-4) about his work “I never know if the political is being used to describe a private trauma or if the private trauma is used to describe a political trauma.” Here he does make the link with the personal as well, and I consider it meaningful that he uses the word describe: describing is not making a statement. His statement is that all manmade disasters in history are the result of people being sure of something. Therefore he adheres to a “politics of uncertainty”.

What character would I be in this procession? Am I someone who is sure of something? Or am I someone standing on the sideline watching? Or not even watching because I am too busy reading and re-reading my own suffering, hoping that reinterpretation will change the message?

https://www.eyefilm.nl/en/exhibitions/william-kentridge-if-we-ever-get-to-heaven-0 exhibition on display till 30 August 2015


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