Art@Site William Kentridge Triumphs and Laments Rome

William Kentridge


Triumphs and Laments

Triumphs and Laments
Created with a technique deliberately ephemeral, Kentridge’s monumental frieze along the River Tiber offers a reading of the history of Rome, which contrasts splendour and misery, glory and defeat.
Opened to the public in April of 2016, the Triumphs and Laments artwork is going to last through the ages – until it fades under the wear and tear of nature. Built on the river banks of the Tiber River, this creative project naturally blends into the natural surroundings.
The monumental frieze created by William Kentridge on the banks of the Tiber is like an unravelled triumphal column. The 80 images in procession in fact recall the scenes engraved on Trajan’s column, without however following any particular time order or story line; it is a series of symbols, archetypes and events which have been freely reinterpreted by the talented South African artist to tell his version of Rome’s history.
Thus a bust of Cicero, tsy of Saint Teresa and the finding of Aldo Moro’s body live side by side, in a metahistorical space which is governed solely by emotive memory. Associations which superimpose the distant past with the more topical present: the widows of Roman soldiers and those of the refugees in Lampedusa, Remo killed by Romolo and fire-fighters at work after the bombing of the San Lorenzo area in 1943.
Triumphs and Laments – the title of the work – offers a reading of a multifaceted history which contrasts splendour and misery, glory and defeat; because every triumph leads to a lament, a loss, a mourning, and for every winner there is always a loser. Lending form to this ambivalence, in the procession Kentridge has chosen to depict the simulacrum of the Winged Goddess Victoria in three versions: first solid and strong, then fractured by cracks, and finally reduced to a pile of rubble. In the same way he transforms the many equestrian monuments which celebrate triumphs into idols: Trojan horses which reveal their il structures and crumble to the ground, becoming mere symbols of the vanity of humankind. Even the sovereign symbol of Rome is de-constructed: the she-wolf who nurtures the first king of Rome is shown gaunt, empty, reduced to a bony carcass. It is the intrinsic dualism of life that lies at the heart of this imposing series of figures, constructed on a play of opposites which alternate and complete each other.
The monumental nature of the frieze, 550 metres long and 10 metres high, is contrasted by the very technique used to create it, deliberately ephemeral and fragile. The work has been created by removing the organic build-up deposited over time on the stone, a layer which will slowly return, until every sign, every trace of this great frieze has been cancelled. It is an organic process: Kentridge has chosen to work with living matter, which cannot be governed by man, but which, on the contrary, will inexorably have the upper hand over his creation in a process which is a metaphor for the cycle of life, made up of birth and death and our total instability.
What is deeply striking about the work is the natural way it integrates into the surroundings; walking along the banks of the Tiber and looking out from the high walls, one can easily believe that it has been there since time immemorial, that it has always been there. In the same way that, in Rome, it is not unusual to find a Corinthian column head re-used to form part of Renaissance architecture, or a Roman temple transformed into a Christian church, the great frieze already looks like an archaeological find which is harmoniously integrated into the surrounding context.
Kentridge has therefore managed to capture the very essence of the city, to represent the sense of passing time, of the cultures and eras which follow one another, of the richness of stratification; understanding how much Rome is a sophisticated example of beauty born of contamination.
The theme of superimposition and grafting is related to the artist’s favourite practice, amated drawing. His most famous works, Drawings for projection, are films which develop on a single sheet where, through the use of malleable techniques such as charcoal, the artist creates, subtracts, adds and cancels figures and characters. A powerful and pre-verbal form of expression, made of images which transform and change at the speed of thought, where the hand and the mind are directly connected and where a body can become a mountain or the palm of a hand becomes a lake. Triumphs and Laments is also tied to metamorphosis, not only because its figures are often shown in change and transformation, but for its gradual process of cancellation which recalls the running time of a film. The cinema and its narrative methods are key points of the artist’s poetry which, in this work, recall and re-elaborate our grand masters.
Thus, Fellini is remembered in La dolce vita, however Anita and Marcello are no longer depicted embracing in the Trevi fountain, but in an old bathtub. Rossellini on the other hand isited to the letter, the symbolic image of Anna Magnani dead in Roma città aperta is the same, while Pasolini and his massacred body become metaphors for a universal pain and recall the many assassinated men seen by Kentridge in Africa during the years of apartheid and which always return to his works, where political reflection is an essential characteristic.
In addition to the cinema, theatre and dance are fundamental forms of expression for this great contemporary master. One must not forget that he studied them, together with mime, from a very early age, and has worked as both actor and director. Music has also played a central role in his poetry of contamination among the arts.
The performance on 21 April which inaugurated the work in a single great flow before a large audience is the result of the fusion of all of these diverse creative disciplines. During the evening, two processions began from opposite sides of the river-side, one from the Mazzini bridge and the other from the Sisto bridge, tomeet in the centre. The characters marched, raising symbols and effigies and casting shadows which, like in Plato’s allegory of the cave, are cognitive instruments of reality for Kentridge. In the procession a Mandinka song of African slaves, an age-old popular song from Southern Italy, and a Zulu warrior battle cry blended together to become one with the words of the poet Rilke: That is the longing: to dwell amidst the waves / and have no homeland in time.
What better tribute to the city know universally as eternal, where everything seems to be both immobile and, at the same time, in perpetual motion, just like the waters of the Tiber.
Triumphs and Laments is part of this metamorphosis, not only because the viewer perceives the images to be in constant transformation but also because the entire art piece could tell a story in the typical film running time.
The technique that was used to create it makes it deliberately fragile. Until it rubs itself off the stone,his art piece will be renewed by scrapping off the organic build-up deposited on the stone.
By choosing to create art over living matter, Kentridge gives his work a divine status because no man can govern how it is used, how it wears off, and how it is reconstructed.
William Kentridge (born 28 April 1955) is a South African artist best known for his prints, drawings, and animated films. These are constructed by filming a drawing, making erasures and changes, and filming it again. He continues this process meticulously, giving each change to the drawing a quarter of a second to two seconds' screen time. A single drawing will be altered and filmed this way until the end of a scene. These palimpsest-like drawings are later displayed along with the films as finished pieces of art.
Kentridge has created art work as part of design of theatrical productions, both plays and operas. He has served as art director and overall director of numerous productions, collaborating with other artists, puppeteers and others in creating productions that combine drawings and multi-media combinations.
Kentridge believed that being ethnically Jewish gave him a unique position as a third-party observer in South Africa. His parents were lawyers, well-known for their defence of victims of apartheid. Kentridge developed an ability to remove himself somewhat from the atrocities committed under the later regimes. The basics of South Africa's socio-political condition and history must be known to grasp his work fully, much the same as in the cases of such artists as Francisco Goya and Käthe Kollwitz.
Kentridge has practiced expressionist art: form often alludes to content and vice versa. The feeling that is manipulated by the use of palette, composition and media, among others, often plays an equally vital role in the overall meaning as the subject and narrative of a given work. One must use one's gut reactions as well as one's interpretive skills to find meaning in Kentridge's work, much of whic reveals very little content. Due to the sparse, rough and expressive qualities of Kentridge's handwriting, the viewer sees a sombre picture upon first glance, an impression that is perpetuated as the image illustrates a vulnerable and uncomfortable situation.
Aspects of social injustice that have transpired over the years in South Africa have often become fodder for Kentridge's pieces. Casspirs Full of Love, viewable at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, appears to be nothing more than heads in boxes to the average American viewer, but South Africans know that a casspir is a vehicle used to put down riots, a kind of a crowd-control tank.
The title, Casspirs Full of Love, written along the side of the print, is suggestive of the narrative and is oxymoronic. A casspir full of love is much like a bomb that bursts with happiness – it is an intangible improbability. The purpose of a machine such as this is to insti"peace" by force, but Kentridge noted that it was used as a tool to keep lower-class natives from taking colonial power and money.
In 2009, Kentridge, in partnership with Gerhard Marx, created a 10m-tall sculpture for his home city of Johannesburg entitled Fire Walker. In 2012 his sculpture, Il cavaliere di Toledo, was unveiled in Naples. Rebus (2013), referring in title to the allusional device using pictures to represent words or parts of words, is a series of bronze sculptures that form two distinct images when turned to a certain angle; when paired in correspondence, for example, a final image – a nude – is created from two original forms – a stamp and a tele