A recent visit to an installation by the South African artist, William Kentridge, at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York City left me silenced in its presence. A faceted, panoramic landscape with projections of human silhouettes, mostly African, moved in a ritualized procession against a bleak monochromatic, flickering background. Stylized cut-outs of large heads and human artifacts accompanied the dancers atop sticks. Large megaphones mounted to tripods in the gallery projected music into the space, accompanying the flickering images on the wall.
This choreography of dancers, marching musicians, agile puppeteers, accompanied first by suffering harmonies of a gospel choir, transitioned into the abrasive, brass sounds of a marching band. The music urged me to move alongside the figures, a witness to a somber parade. A near empty gallery, sparsely filled with an oddity of chairs, offered a place to comfortably watch this looped projection from a distance. This show – part painting, part animation, part performance, all stitched together into a film.
The grim dark appearance of the performers, whose features were not even recognizable in their own shadows, concealed the operatic messages of the story. In my imagination, I felt the dignity of an abused people, marching forward in a dream-like trance toward a brighter future, but weighted down by the inequities and horrendous historic acts of lynching. At the near end of the procession, human figures move forwardly, strenuously pulling a rope tied to a human corpse. As the lifeless figure bumps across the earthen ground, the worst of tragic memories seem to remain until the end. The band plays on until the end when the music fades and the figures disappear.
It brought back memories of time in Louisiana, bearing witness to a funeral procession through the empty streets of the ninth ward of New Orleans.
To view a work of art as a long horizontal procession, where the eye can move back and forth across the screen on a distant horizon, where you can move close to and away to experience the actors and dancers in varying proximity, makes for an unusual work of art.
The stylized black painted cutouts, evidence from the film in the adjoining gallery, seemed abstracted and regimented hanging on the bare, white walls. Souvenirs for sale, things kept as a reminder of a person, place or event.
January 2016, New York City