Fragile Identities - A William Kentridge Festival In Brighton

By Vicky Bigmore | 21 November 2007
a photograph of an artwork consisting of a cylinder with drawings of a landscape on it

William Kentridge, Anamorphic - a cylinder mirror on the table in the Regency House, Brunswick Square exhibition reflecting the projection of the animation, Anamorphic. © William Kentridge

Vicky Bigmore has a psychedelic experience with William Kentridge in Brighton

Brighton has a treat in store this winter with a collection of the works of one of South Africa’s most versatile artists, William Kentridge. The William Kentridge Festival is a dual-sited exhibition at the University of Brighton Gallery and at The Regency Town House, Brunswick Square, Brighton running until December 31 2007.

The gallery at the University of Brighton exhibits prints that range from stereoscopic photogravures to drawings and collages illustrating his experimentation for his animated films.

One of them features his next opera commission: Shostakovich’s The Nose, shown as part of a piece called News From Nowhere. Taking the form of a collage this is preparatory work made up of paper put together to resemble caricatures such as Lenin and Stalin – characters found in the opera.

The most interesting, or perhaps challenging aspect of examining Kentridge’s diverse selection of exhibits is the paradox that lies behind them. You cannot define any piece because where there is absurdity, there is realism; where there is darkness and gloom, there is brilliance; and where there is a 3-dimensional image, there are actually two flat prints.

It is clear from these works that he enjoys working in many mediums from photogravure to drypoint. He is a draughtsman, an animator, a film maker, a producer of theatre and opera, a playwright, director, a set designer and a political activist. And he is always experimental.

Even if you are not an avid fan of philosophy, history or opera, there is still something visually stimulating and thought provoking in all of his pieces. Kentridge will draw an entire piece of animation on one sheet of paper by rubbing out the previous lines he has already filmed. By doing this, you can always see traces of charcoal before the current shot. This technique echoes the idea that although we are always living in the present moment, our past is always with us and cannot be erased.

a drawing of abstract shapes and scrawls

William Kentridge, Zeno Writing [Typewriting] (2002) - Photogravure, drypoint & burnishing on paper. © William Kentridge

Across the city at the magnificent Brunswick Square, the Regency Town House offers a sympathetic venue for the understanding of Kentridge’s work. The house has been under renovation for the best part of 20 years and is far from complete - an apt space for Kentridge’s images and his ideas of echoing the past.

You can still see the pattern of the wallpaper from hundreds of years ago where the sun has come through the window and traced it on the wall.

The exhibit is shown in two rooms. Downstairs, in the centre of the dining room is a large round table. From above, a piece of Kentridge’s animation about the Abyssinian war of 1935/6 called What is to Come (Has Already Come) is a revolving projection onto the table that can be watched as it is reflected in a mirrored cylinder in the centre.

Upstairs, there are images from this animation created especially for the exhibition and published in Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian national business daily, in 2007.

William Kentridge has been described as one of the best minds that Africa has produced. His vast experimentation with medium, content and theme gives his work a psychedelic feeling – rather like Alice In Wonderland or The Beatles Yellow Submarine.

But there is a lot more substance to his work than mere psychedelics. His use of different mediums and contradictory forms are balanced by a fascination with the past and the way we create the world we see in the present to shape our own perceptions.

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