Saturday, 5 November 2016

William Kentridge, Thick Time, Whitechapel


I visited this exhibition today with the express purpose of homework ahead of ENO's Lulu, starting next week. The production is Kentridge's brought over from the Met. Indeed it is a year of Berg for this expressionist, multimedia artist, who is doing Wozzeck in Germany later in 2017.

Expressionist, DADA, surreal, the pieces have that rough-edged aesthetic of the readymades, the majority being Heath Robinson-style machines that provide narrative. The point of 'Thick Time' though is that the narrative isn't always in a straight line but can go backwards too and so often finds itself in a circle.

This is part of he machination then. Bicycle wheels sit alongside the ubiquitous loudhailer. A contraption like a chamber organ driven by a relentless series of camshafts is in the centre of The Refusal of Time in the first room, though its connection to the projection is not always clear. On the first floor a meticulously prepared screen and projection arrangement invokes a Punch & Judy Cabaret Voltaire with all its rough edges as a tribute to Wedekind's Pandora's Box with Right Into Her Arms.

All the pieces have an element of slogan, of pitching ideas to a public without much fuss over whether they connect or not. The OED is not a text for reading but in Kentridge's re-working, the basis for moving images, (well-rendered) drawings of characters walking, dancing or speaking. In many situations it's Kentridge himself in action; the figure isn't the subject but the agent.

It will be interesting to see whether this very much postmodern aesthetic helps deliver or subvert the rigorously expressionist Lulu. The one thing that definitely impresses in the exhibition which I hope to see next week is the careful implementation of the technology, with moving sets and images well-integrated into the pieces at the Whitechapel.

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