William Kentridge’s grand video procession at Aspinwall House adds drama to KMB

One of the most impressive art installations at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) being held at Fort Kochi until March 22, is by William Kentridge. The impressionable line-up of videos in the vast and longish space at the sprawling Aspinwall House, portray societal issues in his continent: discrimination, domination, isolation and even slavery of sorts persisting due to socio-economic differences. The South African’s work is a processional project casting silhouetted figures stepping/dancing in line to the sounds of a brass band across eight screens.

The 15-minute visuals in one loop essay figures carrying objects made from cut-outs of the artist’s own drawings, adorning a sea-facing rectangular room at the sprawling Aspinwall House, the main venue of the 108-day festival.  Ttiled More Sweetly Play the Dance, the video installation features portraits of historical figures and obscure people against the backdrop of plants and trees amid an array of human belongings ranging from bathtubs to suitcases.

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“The procession is a form I have used many times before, trying to encompass in the work the muchness of the people in the world,” reveals the 63-year-old who was born in Johannesburg, where he lives and works. “And to record the fact that even in the 21st century human foot-power remains the primary means of locomotion…. And we are still locked in the manual labour of individual bodies as a way of making the world.”

The image of a procession goes back to Francisco Goya and the paintings of the Spanish romantic painter (1746-1828), discloses Kentridge, who was educated in his city’s University of the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg Art Foundation. “It goes back more recently to photographs of refugees fleeing Rwanda (since the 1994 genocide) to nearby countries such as Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda. All the movement that still exists across Africa,” he notes about the continent that also has people from South Sudan and Eritrea finding asylum in other Kentridge’s biennale work also intersperses scenes of political protests: people throwing pamphlets and holding microphones, even as they look aggrieved that they go unheard. He also points out that the procession films focus on the carriers as much as their issues. “The endless procession of people carrying on their heads and shoulders baskets, bundles of clothes and spoils of war. All of history carried by them,” he notes.

Kentridge has a habit of erasing the background from his drawings even as his continual filming of the smudged traces produces an unsettled effect of light “as the flickering of fate” itself. “I think this movement of time in the background as well as the obvious one of the movement of people in the front is an important component of the work,” he says.

The next vital part was to place them in the world, he adds. “Placing them between a large sky and a landscape foreground through which they move…. There is the linear progression from left to right across the eight screens, and people entering the screens as others leave.”

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