Either William Kentridge is the hardest working South African artist, or his PR or Marketing people are worthy of a bonus this year. I have seen him featured in many shows this year including The Rise and Fall of Apartheid, and the Joburg Art Fair. I have toiled to avoid him all through this year to be honest (call it an over-saturation I suppose), and half dragged myself to this showing. Boy! Was this a captivating surprise.
In this exhibition, he presents 45 landscapes on the pages of the East Rand Proprietary Cash Book (and ledgers from other mines). He uses mainly the pages from February until October of 1906. Often we enjoy not only the subject matter, but also the technique used to fix the from onto the canvas when viewing, and appreciating art. The ledgers book makes for a good secondary message; in that you are invited to view monthly details of the mining business at the beginning of the last century. Who knew all those ledgers I was bent over in high-school Accounting could be so incredibly useful as canvas?!
Pouring into the mining business could be both fascinating and upsetting: Apartheid was a filthy business, and businesses were run on its principles of racial inferiority in precise race classes. You view how mine owners "dealt" with labourers (if would be a gross exaggeration to call them staff) on matters such as salary. No doubt mines have been a worthy subject for Kentridge, but one in which (superficially) he is a simple observer of the internal goings on in South Africa's rich under-belly, and upon greater penetration, one senses a keen provocation for critical debate on unfair labour practice, and the bountiful benefits brought forth from underground for the gratification of mine owners.
The exhibition is in signature Kentridge style, his figures look as if they have a shaky appearance, almost walking through the various frames. That is why his style works well for animation, the subjects and objects are always in motion, or if still, represent motion in some kind of way, as if swaying in the wind or to their own rhythm.
The landscapes are rich, and textured. If you've road tripped passed a South African mine town you will recognise the landscape; a kind of solitary, quiet Sunday afternoon with a gentle breeze in that typical amber of the setting sun (except he uses no colour, but the nostalgia is still there). The archetypal objects are there to frame the typical setting: the pylons, the lone windmills, the rows of trees... all perfectly balanced in rich textures forming the frames of these monthly cash.
There are many layers to this exhibition, more than enough to keep you engaged for a long while. This is also a great way to examine a much over-looked part of our history: the mining sector, which is the foundation on which the country is built. This could perhaps be because the mining industry has little changed in recent years.
There are also some social anecdotes presented, which I enjoyed thoroughly such as the representation of recently popular street posters advertising the services of a Prophet/Healer; as well as portraits of the artist.
Drawings: East Rand Proprietary Mines Cash Book is showing at the Goodman Gallery until 24 December, 2014
Kentridge has two other showings on exhibition:
- The Refusal of Time at the Johannesburg Art Gallery (on until 1 February, 2015), and
- Tapestries at the Wits Art Museum (on until 15 December, 2014)
Images from Goodman Gallery