Entries tagged with “William Kentridge”.

William Kentridge’s Stereoscope

Last weekend I returned to the Henry to check out the new exhibits, but primarily as their William Kentridge show was closing the next week.  The last week of shows are always packed so I wanted to catch it while I’d have a chance to experience it in better conditions.  There clearly were plenty of others thinking like me as there was a good crowd, but it was never packed or distracting.  The Henry being part of the University of Washington is free to its students and there clearly were a number of them coming in and doing things for class.  The exhibit took up four of the rooms on the upper floor of the gallery, two of them blocked off with curtains to allow for projection of two of his animations. The initial, largest room contained primarily works on paper but also a half dozen small sculptures and a couple of mixed media pieces.  The fourth room contained more works on paper, primarily images used in various animations, but an independent series and a mixed media piece of a medicine cabinet with an animation playing inside of it.

William Kentridge Preparing the Flute (tondo)

William Kentridge Preparing the Flute (tondo)

Kentridge’s style is more representational then most of the art that’d make up my short list of favorites, but I’ve found myself quite drawn to a lot of his pieces.  The rough and ready nature of how he lays down his lines feels to me a lot like the direct nature of the abstract expressionists even as they are used to sketch out recognizable forms. In many cases it is only the forms that are recognizable, almost like shadows, while the details and parts are total abstractions.  Of course not all of his pieces appeal, but that is pretty much always the case.  Of his works on paper, the more mixed media ones really appealed to me.  Appropriating old encyclopedia pages, creating sculptures out of corkscrews, his use of text in abstract and concrete ways, using deprecated techniques such as stereoscopes, this all added power to each piece.

William Kentridges Medusa

William Kentridge's Medusa

One of my favorite pieces is the pictured above Medusa, which had a fully reflective cylinder placed in the middle.  Reflected in this cylinder the images of Medusa and the man carrying the yoke snapped into a more recognizable form that I found strangely moving.  While I quite enjoyed Kentridge’s works on paper and his mixed-media pieces it was his animations that I found particularly engaging.  There were three of them playing in the Henry, MemoStereoscope and Medicine ChestStereoscope you can check out a five minute exceprt in the above linked YouTube video though it lacks the soundtrack. To get a feel for the soundtrack from Stereoscope check out these two shorter excerpts: Sterescope 1, Stereoscope 2.  Kentridge’s animations, which I’ve written a bit about in my Return of Ulysses report, are as basic as you can get: a series of drawings that animate like a flipbook. There seems to be no use of cells, which allow for cutting down on the amount redrawn per frame (though he could do things to replicate unchanging elements such as printing each page or photocopying them).  There is a directness, a humanness in his animations with the process directly exposed. The images, like his works on paper, seem thrown on the page and highly emotional. The subject matter of Memo and Stereoscope seem to be the banalities of everyday existence, with its office works overwhelmed by everyday activities and dualities of work and infidelities.

William Kentridge Medicene Chest still

Medicine Chest, which was I think my favorite, of the animated pieces and its enclosure inside an actual medicine chest I think was a big part of this.  Taking a normal medicine chest with the door open and seamlessly replacing the back with a video screen, leaving inside three glass shelves.  In a way it reminded me of a modern take on a Rauschenberg combine, which Kentridge’s evocative and rough animation seems to reinforce.  This animation featured things you’d see in a medicine chest: tonics, cups and other toiletries but also reflected faces and then eventually it became a window to an interior world of birds and landscapes.  The reflection of the video in the glass shelves was omnipresent but at times it was clearly worked with, used in the animations to great effect and images were reflected and refracted into the third dimension.  The mirror on the open door displayed the room and, if you sat in the right place, yourself extending the reach of the piece beyond itself.  As I had waited for this video to restart from the beginning I had spent a good amount of time with a charcoal drawing on the opposite wall called Gyroscope. This was a rather plain sketched out landscape with a huge gyroscope dominating it, but shown in overlapping layers of movement so that it looked more like and armillary sphere then a gyroscope.  I was delighted when this turned up in Medicine Chest and you could see as it began spinning its transformation into that image I’d spent so much time looking at. I think this was just a drawing for the piece (it had various drafting marks and notes on it, a feature of a lot of these pieces that I liked a lot) but it could have actually been a drawing from the final film. Which would mean these were really large which makes the whole process even more impressive.

Prior to these shows I really hadn’t been that aware of Kentridge beyond a few images in some contemporary art books that I probably couldn’t have brought to mind on hearing his name.  Seeing the opera and now this show (I’m kicking myself for missing the additional works on paper at the Greg Kucera gallery) I’ve come to really appreciate his work.  I’m pleased to see that there will be segment in the forthcoming Season 5 of Art:21 on him, it’ll be nice to see some of his working process on video.  His work is powerful, constantly struggling against his experiences as a white man in South Africa as well as reflecting the general human condition of the 21st century.  Certainly an artist I’ll be following as I can.

More Kentridge YouTube videos here.

William Kentridge mania has swept the Seattle area art blogs that I follow. For good reason for the most part as at this point in time he has a show at the Henry Art Gallery, recent prints at Greg Kucera Gallery, a performance at UW and first and foremost a staging of his production of Montiverdi’s Return of Ulysses with Pacific Operaworks. Getting caught up in this mania I checked to see if tickets were available on Saturday and they were so I rather impulse bought one and headed out to the show.

Return of Ulysses Staging

The show was at the historic Moore Theater which really was the perfect venue for this sort of thing. Built in 1907 this theater has the old rococo charm of its classic theater and vaudeville roots which seemed to blend seamlessly with the stage setting. The stage was basically setup in three layers in a semi-circle with a stage on the bottom, the musicians on the middle level and the third level a balcony in front of a screen upon which Kentridge’s animations and drawings were projected. The visual information that was available to the audience was overwhelming. The characters in the opera were represented by puppets which were fantastic creations of the Handspring Puppet Company whose puppeteer was right there on stage with their puppet. Additionally a each character had the singer who usually flanked the puppet on the other side and usually manipulated one of the puppets arms.  So each character (except for the gods who were represented solely by a singer) had three separate parts to it and at times the stage could be pretty crowded with them all.

Ever present was the musicians, who for this early music aficionado are fascinating to watch.  Arrayed in the semi-circle illustrated above from left to right they were: baroque harp, arch lute, chitarone/baroque guitar, viola, baroque violin, viola de gamba and baroque ‘cello/lirone. The Montiverdi score is really entrancing, quite a bit of it was interplay between the harp and lute often with the ‘cello or viola de gamba providing an almost drone like continuo.  All of the performers are part of Seattle’s very engaged early music scene and thus the size of the ensemble, the tunings, the performance techniques and the instruments were all appropriate to the music.  Music from this period does not suffer from the same type of excesses that mark opera from the romantic periods especially in vocal techniques. The singing is much more akin to what you’d find in say a Bach Cantata or polyphonic chant. The size of the orchestra doesn’t allow for the huge overtures and bombast of this period either, the music is much more delicate and as it is all strings of a particular character.  There really is a balance between the singers, who do not engage in the vocal flights of fancy one typically associates with opera and the instrumentalists who do not have over endowed sections to simplify and over emphasize their sounds. I really loved the music for this, the layers of plucked tones from the lute(s) and harp, the drones from the ‘cello and viola de gamba and the rare melodic interventions of the violin and viola.  This served well to remind me that the Montiverdi selection in my CD files is a bit thin. The music direction from Stephen Stubbs was impeccable and I’m inspired to seek out some of his early music recordings.  Pacific Operworks who performed the opera is a new company started by Stubbs and in conjunction with the Seattle Academy of Baroque Opera focuses on chamber operas and related historical performances. Based on this, their inagurale production, they are clearly a welcome addition to the city.

The next layer was the projected animations and drawings from William Kentridge.  These served a number of purposes from backdrop and stage setting, to commentary.  In some instances it would be a scrolling landscape, road or hallway and the puppets would perform in front of it giving a sense of movement and represent well the travel that was involved.  Most interesting though was the use of the animation as an illustration of the abstract concepts that the opera was engaging.  The play begins with Ulysses on his deathbed surrounded by representations of Time, Fortune and Love. Projected during this was images of surgery, abstract drawings that could evoke such things as time, thought, feelings of frailty and of course abstractions that their just wasn’t sufficient time to unravel. At other times metaphors from the characters would be illustrated such as flowering plants, vines and growing trees as Penelope’s three suitors ply her with these analogies in an attempt to persuade her to turn her affections from the long absent Ulysses to one of them.  Certain images would repeat sometimes permuted other times directly to underscore recurrent themes and ideas.  Over the hour and forty minutes or so of the opera I’d say there was nearly an hours worth of original material, most of it black and white animated images (as opposed to layered cell animation). I was really taken by a lot of this animation and am now very curious to see more of Kentridge’s art in this style.

Finally there was the actual story of the opera which as inmost modern opera productions was available to use via super-scripting – a small monitor above the stage where the lyrics would be presented in English in real time. The story of course is familiar to anyone who has read Homer – Ulysses returning from the Trojan wars was waylaid by the gods and wandered for many years. During this time his wife Penelope is besieged by suitors who wish to win her hand and gain Ulysses kingdom. Ulysses finally making it back to Greece  learns of this situation and added by Athena  appears in his court in the disguise of an old man in order to assess the situation. Finding Penelope has remained true to him he slays the suitors, reveals his identity and reunites with his wife. A multi-layered story with ideas rooted in man’s mortality, the nature of fate, faithfulness, the nature of power and so on.

All in all between reading the text, watching the stagecraft, keeping an eye on the animation and watching the musicians and listening to the music I can’t think of the last time I have been so completely engaged in a performance. Even the narrow and uncomfortable Moore theater seats were barely able to arise to my attention so enveloped as I was in this abundance of stimuli.  This is definitely one of the best and most engaging things I have seen in a long time and while it was rather expensive it was well worth it. This is a rare event and they are only doing five performances here before moving the staging to San Francisco. For any of my Seattle area readers I highly advise catching one of this weekend’s performances.