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WILLIAM  KENTRIDGE -  BLACK BOX

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Over the years, the basic art forms have been extended through the imaginative power of artists worldwide. Different shapes or forms have been created by implementing different media and objects, which inspire the viewer to perceive art from a new level of thought. An art work titled Black Box is on exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin from the 29th October 2005 till 15th January 2006. The work incorporates drawings, mechanical/kinetic objects, animations/film projections as well as German-African history in a fascinating manner. AFRITOPIC was at the exhibition’s press conference and had the opportunity to interview the South-African artist, William Kentridge and the New-York-based curator, Maria-Christina Villaseñor.

 

Afritopic: What motives you to create the Black Box?

Kentridge: There are two factors that motivate me. The first motivating factor is the formal aspect, the shape. This is made up of the projection, the theatre and the mechanic/kinetic objects. The second factor comes from the question, “What is the work about”? It has to be about something of interest. In this case, it is about the historical issues combined with the technique and the form applied to produce the historical art piece.

Afritopic: How did the work evolve?

Kentridge: It evolved through a series of failures. In the beginning, I started with painting but realized that I was very bad at painting. I could draw quite well but my paintings were simply disaster. I thought of becoming an actor and gained admission to an acting school in Paris. In Paris, I discovered very quickly that I would be a terrible actor. I decided to go back to South Africa and started working in the film industry. I tried a career as a film designer. But I had to admit that I was not very competent to make headway in the profession. So, I had to leave the film industry. I was conscious of my failures. I have tried three different professions and failed in all. I had to start again. I went back to my studio and thought of combining my drawing skills with some of what I have learnt in the film industry and the theatre to create new forms. Moreover, I studied African history and politics at the University. I was in the University during the day and in the evening I attended the art school. I am interested in topics concerning the root of the world, the historical movement of the world and particularly but not exclusively in African history. What history taught me was to understand the world as a process that continues to change with time through movements. Everything moves as the world keep on moving. From this perspective, animation becomes a good metaphor for history. The integration of history into animation and mechanical kinetic presents a melting point of my academic studies and my interest in arts.

Afritopic: Which experience that has influenced the way you start your projects would you share with upcoming artists?

Kentridge: The best works I have done are those I started with open mind. I now try to maintain the open mind approach to what might develop from my undertakings or projects. I do not try to envision what or how the end result would be or look like. This attitude spurns me to initiate, implement and accept emerging changes in the working process. In the case of the Black Box, I initially had an idea of using the image of rhinoceros as a centre-figure of a project. With the idea in mind, I started filming without knowing how the project was going to develop. In general, you realize that you have more knowledge than you ever thought of in the process of carrying out a project. continue>
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
William Kentridge
 
You find out that there are things that you know you don’t know that you know. The combination of images and sounds unlocks other ideas and possibilities, which in turn provide more room for creativity. The ability to be open to what your work can tell you about yourself is very important rather than the political and personal aspects. You can derive the raw materials for your ideas from your dreams, desire, conversations, fears, films and so on. The sources of ideas are within and around you.
 
William Kentridge's Black Box (by John Hodgkiss)
 

Afritopic: Now that Black Box is exhibited, do you see what could have been done better?

Kentridge: When an art work is finished the artist usually see what could be done better or improved in the work. There is the choice to take the work to the studio and work on it again for next six months or leave the work as it is and move on to the next project.

 
William Kentridge's studio (by John Hodgkiss)
 
Yes, I could work on the film to refine and polish it, but instead of doing that, I prefer to move on, take the next step and apply new way of thinking to produce something new. The elements that make up the Black Box have generated new ideas for my next project. I can imagine using different kinds of screen, different objects, create new relationships between objects, employ live music and novel technology to create new interesting art work. End
 
William Kentridge in studio (by John Hodgkiss)
 
 
Maria-Christina Villaseñor
 
I have visited Germany a number of times working together with Deutsche Guggenheim through my function as the associate curator of film and media at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. I have been in the professional field for long, starting with duties in the film archive section and moving on to organizing art exhibitions. I have an academic background in Arts and have done some documentary films. However, I neither draw nor paint; I wish I had the necessary talent. I have had the opportunity to meet different artists and help in preparing exhibitions. The preparation for the Black Box exhibition is particularly interesting for its richness. The work entails different forms of art including drawings, painting and theatrical production, moving images, kinetic objects and music. I think this is about all you can get in a very rich art work.
 
The most interesting thing for me as a curator is to create a concept for an exhibition that would entice people to visit the exhibition and present a starting point for the visitors to form their own opinions about the work on show. I try to give the visitors the best starting point I can give to enable them to view the work from different perspectives.
 
Due to the complexity of the work, competences in different areas are needed; technical expertise, design and computer knowledge for example. This might raise some doubts in the mind of an artist in connection with the talents of the party organizing the exhibition. Working together with William Kentridge was a valuable experience for me. He is quite open and we had a very good cooperative working relationship during the preparation of the exhibition. We shared advice, opinions and suggestions.We had to talk and did discussed about different issues concerning the drawings, the objects, the mechanic and kinetic, the film and projection technique as well as the availability of historical information. For the historical part, we had to do some research on German – African history and African colonial history with the thought of presenting the historical information through photography and moving images.

I took up the responsibility to research earlier colonial films for historical materials, which I presented to Kentridge. He would respond and through discussions, materials were selected for use or discarded. This was really unusual because curators are generally more involved in the preparation of an exhibition after the artist has already finished/developed the art work. So, it was amazing for me to be able to bring-in my ideas and be part of the development of Black Box.     continue>

 
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The nature of my job is international, which demands my travelling to different places/countries, meeting different people and dealing with different groups of audience. As a resident of New York, I have to be cautious that I do not bring the New Yorker mentality or attitude into play when dealing with other people. I have to be very open to new issues and bear in mind that I am dealing with people with different ways of life, perceptions and languages.
 
Maria-Christina Villaseñor
 

 This requires my adapting to new mode and situation resulting from the changes in my environment. Wherever I am, I give myself the time to talk to the artist and the people. In discussions, I make sure that I am not only forcing my own view points but allow other view points different to mine. I have to be sensitive to new issues of interest, listen to new suggestions and consider other opinions. I might say it is sometimes hard on me but I love it all. I love my profession.

 

In general, I focus on the artist and the art work when preparing for an exhibition. The nationality or the cultural background of the artist is not the main focus. It is more important to give artists space and time for their work and allow them to learn about themselves and their personalities. I know Kentridge and I have seen many of his drawings and animations before working together on the preparation of the Black Box exhibition. I found his works and the way he presents them fascinating. In 1998 we invited him to give a lecture on a film program we were doing. He came over to New York and gave a brief lecture. About three years ago, we started talking about the Black Box project, which developed into a very rich style of cooperation between the artist and the curator. I feel very lucky to spend so much time on the project and experience such a benefiting work relationship. The project gave me a first hand knowledge of how the artist, William Kentridge works.

 

I have always been fascinated by colonial history. My family comes from Mexico, which has her own history of Spanish colonialism. Colonialism and Imperialism are important part of the work. But these issues should be viewed from a very broad sense. Some of the colonial issues and implications as well as imperialism are still true of the situation in many parts of the world today. The viewer should see the integrated historical captions as a part of a whole art work with different elements. It was certainly challenging to carry out the research, especially in Namibia, a former German colony. In Namibia, Kentridge was lucky to meet a competent archivist who helped him in digging out relevant and interesting historical information. I am pleasantly surprised to find special attention paid to some of the issues in many English publications in Africa. Moreover, the activities such as the centenary commemorations of the Ovaherero-German war that took place in 2004 further helped me to gain an insight of the Namibian-German history. In terms of the timing, I have been fortunate to benefit from these programs and all the great publications in the media. Yes, it was a big project for both of us. While Kentridge did more of general research, I played the role of expanding the dialogue ensuing from the content.

 

Describing the work in a few words is quite difficult because there are so many aspects to it. The work is not only multimedia as it was started but also multi-facial. It really shows the artist’s journey in that it is not just a series of drawings, sculptures and other elements in the theatre that led to the Black Box. The fascinating feature is the way all the elements including the animations and the theatre productions are incorporated to form the Black Box leading to the creation of dialogue between all objects.

Of course, I very much hope that the work would be exhibited in Africa, especially in South Africa. It is a work that is meant to open up dialogue and it would be great to see the impact of the work on the audience in Africa and the responses from Africa. I would personally love to organize the exhibition there, engage in dialogues with the people and get to know the artistic community better. I am working on that and hope it would happen soon.    End

Afritopic.

 
 
 

Photos

Kentridge's work>
Press Conference>
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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