William Kentridge, The Whitechapel Gallery, 11/01/17
“My heart has been in ruins since”
William Kentridge is definitely a man who likes theatrics. In his new exhibition Thick Time showing at The Whitechapel Gallery in East London, he presents a fully immersive environment. Casting you straight into his subconscious.
Kentridge is known for his animated drawings and historical references and this exhibition certainly doesn’t disappoint. O Sentimental Machine explores Lenin and wartime Russia, while Second Hand Reading runs through page after page of hand drawn renditions of Kentridge himself pacing and pacing, deep in thought over the pages of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
Kentridge appears a lot in his work, almost every piece features him in some guise, dressed as Lenin gesturing orchestral movements, or as in most he just paces, dressed in a white shirt and black trousers with one hand in his pocket, walking around throwing or ripping paper, always thinking, meandering, pondering something he hasn’t fully let us in on. As in Journey To The Moon where he uses simple video editing to create beautiful sweeping movements of floating objects.
But surely the most impressive piece of the whole exhibition, a piece they decided to start the whole show with, is Refusal Of Time. A panoramic cinematic theatre installation, complete with full surround sound, projections on three out of four walls, and a giant old fashioned machine, slowly breathing in and out continuously. On the walls you see actors dancing around you, playing instruments, you feel more a participant rather than a voyeur, as if they are really in the room with you, and you with them.
Upstairs we see such mechanical mutations as the Heartbeat Sewing Machine, as well as fully realised sets like a television studio. All around you is constant noise, music, talking, movement. Low lighting adds to the mesmerising experience. My favourite piece would have to be Journey To The Moon, set in a dark room with projections on every wall, seven in total ( if I can remember correctly ), A slightly shorter loop than the other films, you can stand there and just keep turning and concentrating and absorbing a new screen, whilst feeling like you’re inside a warm black hole, floating in time.
I wasn’t so keen on the room full of books and hanging tapestries. It felt a little confusing to just have a load of his books laid out on a table for everyone to browse through as it didn’t really feel like you could just stop and read through a book at that point, especially as it was so early on in the exhibition. It broke the mood a little.
Saying that, this exhibition is definitely worth going to if you enjoy theatrical, historical art cinema. I know it’s definitely not to everyone’s taste, but I found it inspiring. Although that may just be my love and interest in film, I can just watch and think about how he’s made this bit or that and how fun it would be to create something similar. Unfortunately the exhibition finished yesterday, but if you ever have the chance to go to a William Kentridge show, do it.