Fieldwork Research (Part 1)

At the Art Gallery of NSW today for the William Kentridge exhibit – to think about his process and approach to media. He has a diverse body of work ranging from animation, printing, collage, sculpture and theatre design. A couple of his works stood out but I was particularly enthralled by the montage of shadows animating eight screens in a large display room. Here’s a sample of the effect captured on video:


I was immediately struck by the sense of whimsy, carnivalesque absurdity in every frame – so I was not surprised to learn the works related to the farcical opera The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. Each frame offers a distinct experience, ranging from text to shadow puppets, animation and dance. The spectator immediately feels surrounded by a chaotic frenzy of parading and posturing figures, from the opening fanfare it immediately becomes impossible to zero in on any particular set of images – multiple titles appear at once from all sides, and so the spectator is immersed.

The simplicity of the tools used to create this work is striking. Basic theatre spotlights, or stop motion animation ascribed to film- all technologies available from the early part of the 20th Century, this lo-fi approach is emphasised by the use of black and white, as well as the imagery used which is reminiscent of a travelling circus. The use of shadow is significant for the audience experience, as the projections often collide with the audiences as they inhabit the space, thus creating an additional set of shadows – this has a marked effect of simultaneously disrupting the work and enhancing it, as the fresh shadows invite a sense of interaction and playfulness, the spectators may feel compelled to dance along with the animation, for example.

Kentridge combines his pre-revolutionary operatic scenography with Soviet era iconography. note the shadow of the spectator (me) at the bottom of frame.

I’m interested in this work for the following reasons:

  1. it has a theatrical lineage, working from a perspective of set design and opera
  2. the immersive, chaotic nature of the piece, surrounding and overwhelming the viewer
  3. the lo-fi shadow play component, using simple tech to generate an immersive aesthetic experience
  4. the inherent sociopolitical commentary to the work, linking the human body with notions of freedom, expression and oppression within the same moment

I will explore this final point in more detail to come.

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