EYE International - your Dutch film connection
William Kentridge on his EYE Exhibition

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EYE EXHIBITION: WILLIAM KENTRIDGE

Four years ago, William Kentridge donated 10 Drawings for Projection (1989-2011) to the Eye Filmmuseum. These are considered to be among the visionary South African artist/ filmmaker's most important animated films.

Speaking from his studio in Johannesburg in early May, Kentridge explains just why he made the donation. "I was very happy to have a collection of the films in a place that is both a museum but also a portal to a film archive," he says. He knew that the films would be properly preserved and looked after - that they would find what he calls a safe repository. "It is not as altruistic a gift as it might appear!"

Kentridge adds that he relishes the atmosphere at Eye and speaks of his delight that the films are not only part of the Eye collection but will soon be shown again as part of a major installation taking place during the Holland Festival, for which Kentridge acts as Associate Artist. The great man will be there in person to introduce the work.

At the start of his career, Kentridge looked as likely to become an actor as an artist. He had been fascinated by performance as well as drawing from a very early age. "They were both natural activities to continue with. After university, I studied fine arts at a private school and then decided I had nothing to say as an artist and gave it up - and then thought if I can't be an artist, I suppose I had better be an actor."

He had been acting at a theatre company in Johannesburg but decided he needed to study the craft properly. He was interested in mime and improvisation - and this led him to the renowned École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. This was not a psychological or text-based school. The emphasis here was on movement - acting "from the neck downwards." However, as Kentridge puts it with typical self-deprecation, "after three weeks, I discovered I should not be an actor. The range of what I could do was very limited." Rather than quit immediately, he completed the year of the course. This may not have turned him into a performer but he credits his time at Le Coq with teaching him a huge amount about directing and making art in general.

Kentridge is a polymath, known for animation, tapestry, sculpture and print making. He talks of his pleasure in drawing, sometimes in ink and sometimes in charcoal. He also loves the "provisionality" of animation. "One can either see the world as a series of facts, like photographs, or you can see it as something that is constantly unfolding... where one thing can be transformed into something else."

Ask him what he most likes and dislikes about his native South Africa and Kentridge sighs. "Oh boy...you could have a two hour
conversation. In brief, one could say there is a pessimistic future unfolding where things are growing worse and worse and worse. And there is an optimistic future unfolding at the same time of astonishing projects and initiatives and enthusiasms and people to work with." He acknowledges that his work doesn't reach every sector of society in South Africa. Art is an activity that is "essentially for the middle class" and that there are a "disproportionate number" of white to African visitors to museums and galleries.

Yes, new technology has had a major impact on his work. VR seems a source of particular fascination. "I am intrigued by the way in which Virtual Reality is the closest artistic form we've come to the sensation of dreaming - and dreaming is always a disaster in art when it is described in a novel or a painting of a dream... they're always terrible. It may well be the case that after the initial infatuation with VR, it turns into the same but I am certainly astonished at the sensation of floating over the world... while sitting in a chair with a headset." GM

SEE NL Magazine #35 May 2019 / Cannes - Annecy Issue

SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.

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