Currently on in New York City Marian Goodman Gallery has tapped artist William Kentridge to present a series of new works in film, drawing and sculpture, uniting materials from three major performance projects that have been in the works over the past two years. The show, Let Us Try for Once, brings together materials from The Head & the Load, a theatrical tour de force co-composed by Philip Miller and Thuthuka Sibisi and recently shown at the New York Armory in December 2018, as well as a celebrated production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, which Kentridge directed for the Salzburg opera festival in 2017 (and coming to The Metropolitan Opera in 2019-2020), as well as Ursonate, a performance of Kurt Schwitters’ 1932 sound poem of the same title, presented at Performa Biennial New York.
The collection of materials ranges from a three-channel video piece, KABOOM! (2018), projected onto a model scaled to the stage of The Head & the Load, alongside charcoal drawings used in the production, each exploring the story of African porters used by British, French and German forces during WWI, and exploring the intermingled relationships between different peoples and their respective roles in the massive spectacle of death that was the war. Recording and reframing history, Kentridge’s act of reordering and retelling acts as a way to reflect and destabilize knowledge, arriving at new modes of understanding and living together.
Similar themes follow in each of the other works on view. Kentridge arrived at his project about war as a result of having finished a production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck the year before, in 2017, at the Salzburg Festival. Presenting a series of charcoal drawings for the production design, the artist’s work showcases a world transformed by conflict, the First World War again figuring in the horrifying text of Wozzeck and the horrors man visits upon himself and his fellow man. The battlefields of Flanders are re-posed here as a site for the betrayal and tragedy of the production, and underscore Kentridge’s remarkable abilities to utilize simple inversions of space and material to create gruesome or elevating effects.
In another space, the artist presents a series of bold grids of color, text, truncated syllables, and figures and objects pulled from his work for the Performa piece Ursonate (2018-2019), Kentridge’s performance of Kurt Schwitters’ 1932 sound poem in the Harlem Parish Church. Reiterating the idea of history as a strange relationship of written words to the world, Kentridge’s invocation of the Dadaist legacy of illogic and absurdity are brought to light in this performance. Kentridge’s re-enactment of Ursonate –its pauses, gestures, and sounds – exists in parallel to the gaps of language and ruptures of history in The Head & the Load, whose libretto comprises a mélange of forms and a collage of fragments in place of discourse: a Zulu translation of Tristan Tzara. Breaking and re-ordering language, Kentridge performs a similar action to those discussed elsewhere, using his work as a mode of reconstructing time and space for further consideration and meditation.
The artist’s work is on view through April 20th, 2019.
– D. Creahan
William Kentridge: Let Us Try for Once [Exhibition Site]