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William Kentridge



Type of book work: Editioned / printed work - Two fold-out printed panels in clamshell box
Dimensions: 163cm (h) x 156cm (w)
Media: Lift Ground Aquatint etching on 100% Hemp Phumani handmade paper (made by Dumisani Dlamini)
Mounted on raw cotton cloth

Artist's / designer's statements

Triumphs and Laments consists of erased graffiti drawings on the banks of the Tiber River between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Mazzini in the heart of Rome. The project was commissioned by a non-profit organization Tevereterno and Kristin Jones. The project was conceived as a performative projection a decade earlier. For Kentridge, this project became about the space between the Vatican and the site of the original segregated Jewish ghetto that was established during the late Renaissance in Rome from 1555 and lasted until 1870 when the Italian army conquered Rome bringing the enlightened views of Garibaldi, Mazzini and Cavour.

Kentridge's technique is carried out in sequential steps, first from drawings made on paper (first in charcoal and then in ink) to their translation on the travertine walls that contain the Tiber river today, that subtracts the dark layer left on the stone blocks by pollution, vegetation and micro-organisms, through washing around the cut stencils with water. According to Guercio, the figures monumental size (their triumph) is inseparable from their precarious state (their lament) since the frieze will inevitably fade away.

The large works of Marcus Aurelius and Garibaldi have been translated into monumental prints retaining some of the impetus and spirit of the Rome frieze Triumphs and Laments. The image is drawn across 20 brass plates with a sugar-lift mixture and ink. The plates are then covered with a varnish or ground and submerged in water to 'lift' the drawing through washing, leaving a negative image. This is aquatinted with enamel spray paint and immersed in ferric chloride- a non-toxic equivalent of acid. The paper used to print each plate is hand made from raw Chinese hemp fibre that is cooked, pulped and cast into lightweight sheets at the Phumani Papermill at the University of Johannesburg. The plates have been further etched and dry-pointed adding additional layers of tone and nuance to the images.

The prints are mounted on raw cotton cloth through the etching press assuming the rough texture of the cloth. The cloth is folded in on itself using the format of a folded map that fits modestly into ones hands, denying the monumentality of a huge framed artwork. This paradox echoes what Guercio, describing the Rome frieze, called "a desire to experience both the unfolding of time and time itself as unfolding".

The edition is small (ten), with each piece individually hand-coloured by Kentridge using ink washes to join the folds between individual paper panels. The work folds into a hand-made clamshell box.

Publisher: Artist Proof Studio
Collaborators: Kim Berman and Nathi Ndlandla
Printers: Sara-Aimee Verity and Nathi Ndlandla

I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures and uncertain ending - an art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check, and nihilism at bay.

William Kentridge was born in 1955 in Johannesburg. Son of two anti-apartheid lawyers, he learned at an early age to question structural impositions. In 1976, he attained a degree in Politics and African Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand after which he studied art at the Johannesburg Art Foundation until 1978. There, he met Dumile Feni and was greatly influenced by his drawings. He also worked as a set designer for film productions and taught design printing until he moved to Paris in 1981 to study drama at the Ácole Jacques LeCoq.

During the 80s, Kentridge was art director for television series and feature films. He then began making hand-drawn animated films. Although not directly referring to the segregationist era, he acquired international recognition as a South African artist whose work tracks a personal route across the aftermath of Apartheid and Colonialism. His films are set in the over-exploited, scorched industrial and mining landscape around Johannesburg, which represent the legacy of a time of abuse and injustice.

In a talk with art critic Okwui Enzewor, Kentridge expressed, 'Drawing is not unlike the structure and evolution of the South African landscape.' Since 1989 he has made 9 films that accompany the end of the apartheid system, the first elections and the work of Truth and Reconciliation Commission in trying to show the complex tensions in a postcolonial memory. Amongst them are Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris, Ubu tells the Truth, and Steroscope.

In addition to film and drawing, an important part of his career has been devoted to theatre. From 1975-91 he was member of the Junction Avenue Theatre Company, in Johannesburg and Soweto. In 1992, he began collaborating, as set designer, actor, and director of the Handspring Puppet Company. The Company creates multi-media pieces using puppets, live actors and animation. It performs plays like Woyzeck, Faust and King Ubu to reflect on colonialism, and human struggle between the past, modernity and ethics.

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