That Which We Do Not Remember marks the year-end at Goodman Gallery Cape Town. This solo exhibition presents major new work by William Kentridge, spanning two recent opera productions, Lulu and Wozzeck, and several projects in between.
The exhibition gives unique insight into Kentridge’s prolific practice and intricately interconnected projects over the past two years, bringing together drawings, prints, sculpture, tapestries, a kinetic model theatre as well as a 360° virtual reality film – many of which are rooted in Kentridge’s distinctive charcoal drawing. While some works will debut in South Africa, others have recently shown abroad and will be accessible to local audiences for the first time.
At the centre of the show is a series of charcoal drawings made by Kentridge for his production of Alban Berg’s opera, Wozzeck, which premiered at the Salzburg Festival in July. The opera delves into the tormented life of a homicidal soldier and is characterised by bleak landscapes, denuded of their trees and scarred by shell craters.
As Wozzeck ’s creative director, Kentridge drew inspiration from documentary photographs that depict the ravaged battlefields of Flanders. For Kentridge, an opera must ‘meet a material for it to take fire – with Wozzeck, it’s the roughness of charcoal drawing. So all of the projections are made out of charcoal drawings and there’s something in the graininess of the drawing itself that echoes the music, but also with the world that it’s depicting – of things transforming, of sounds under the earth.’
The title of the exhibition is drawn from one of a new series of prints, titled Blue Rubrics (a continuation of Kentridge’s 2012 Rubrics print series). Here, ‘rubric’ refers to instructions printed in prayer books, conventionally in red ink. However, in this instance, words and phrases are printed in striking lapis lazuli-based pigment. Kentridge perceives these phrases as ‘a prod, a goad to the activity of thinking, of understanding how we have to make sense of the world from contradictory fragments.’
Marking Kentridge’s first foray into 360° virtual reality medium, Love Songs from the Last Century is experienced by donning a headset and exploring a panoramic charcoal landscape over which phrases, silhouettes and props are maneuvered. The experience is punctuated by animated live action manipulations. Kentridge is a looming presence who precipitates a fall of black snow, which takes the form of torn tissue paper that flutters towards the floor. The work was produced for the Invisible Exhibition, which formed part of Season Two at the Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg earlier this year.
The exhibition expands on an area of intellectual curiosity that is central to Kentridge’s practice, namely unpacking and challenging the concept of a ‘polished’ and ‘complete’ creative idea realised in the form of a ‘finished’ artwork. In this vein, a series of hand-carved wooden busts are presented, appearing as if they could be preparatory to a woodcut print, however, in this instance, that which would be used to produce an artwork becomes the artwork itself. The busts depict founding members of the African National Congress in 1912, including John Dube and Pixely Kaseme, as well as characters from the Berg opera Lulu, which Kentridge directed in 2016. Also on show is a series of prints related to Lulu in which the artist explores the femme fatale construct together with other characters from the opera.
That Which We Do Not Remember extends into the Video Room with the kinetic model theatre Right Into Her Arms, assembled from film material made while developing the production of Lulu. The soundtrack samples fragments of Schoenberg and Webern cabaret songs, as well as Swedish cabaret recordings of the same era and spoken excerpts from Kentridge’s recording of Kurt Schwitter’s Ursonate, which was performed live in New York for Performa 17.
William Kentridge lives and works in Johannesburg. Since the 1990s, his work has been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world and is held in eminent collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Albertina Museum in Vienna and the Musée du Louvre in Paris. Kentridge has participated in the Venice Biennale (1993, 1995, 2005) as well as Documenta X (1997), Documenta XI (2002) and Documenta XIII (2012), among others. His opera productions have been staged at venues such as La Scala in Milan and Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, both in New York, and in collaboration with opera companies such as the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, the English National Opera in London, and the New York Metropolitan Opera. This year Kentridge ranked 58th on Art Review’s Power 100 and was the recipient of Spain’s prestigious Princess of Asturias Award for Art. He premiered Wozzeck at the 2017 Salzburg Festival and, concurrent to his Goodman Gallery exhibition, Kentridge has solo shows at The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and at Sint-Janshospitaal in Bruges.