Life In Berlin: Artist William Kentridge At The Foreign Affairs Festival

Jul 12, 2016

While he himself might say otherwise, South African artist William Kentridge is back in Berlin. In a clip from the short film, "Berlin Memory 3’ 14"," from his “Drawing Lessons” project, Kentridge is asked if he remembers being in Berlin. He answers, “No, when, I was never there; it never happened.”

I’m watching it underneath the stage of the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, where Kentridge’s video installations play overnight as part of the annual festival Foreign Affairs. This project, “Uncertain Places,” turns the theater inside out, carving projection spaces out of elevators and carpentry shops from 10 pm to 1 am. Combine this with Kentridge’s signature drawing-and-erasing style of animation, as well as the saying-and-denying from the “Drawing Lessons” videos, and you’ve got a compelling but confusing nighttime world.

The theme of this year’s Foreign Affairs festival is “Uncertainty.”

“Uncertainty means giving the work the benefit of the doubt,” Kentridge says. “Uncertainty is a polemic against the idea of certainty itself - every claim of certainty is always authoritarian.”

And so instead of authoritarian certainty, Kentridge provides collage, erasure, and friction. The exhibit that runs alongside Foreign Affairs at the Martin Gropius Bau, “No, It Is!,” is a study in creative chaos. Kentridge’s own art collection forms a kind of “wunderkammer” - his preparatory sketches give a sense of the studio process. And then there are the large-scale installations like the monumental processional, “More Sweetly Play the Dance,” which Kentridge calls a “filmed drawing.”

This July, Berliners have the chance to see the work of William Kentridge from a number of angles: His films, drawings, performances, and lectures, and the things that fall between clean categories. It’s more than a retrospective to see Kentridge’s interdisciplinary body of work in the same place at the same time - it’s an immersion into a striking visual world, one both politically necessary and open to interpretation. It’s a world that can teach us all how to be a little bit less certain.

Joanna Dudley gives a guided tour of the exhibition at Foreign Affairs.
Credit Jirka Jansch / Foreign Affairs

As his collaborator at the festival, artist and singer soprano Joanna Dudley explains, “I think William’s work, he doesn’t want it to have one particular meaning, and that’s quite important. And I feel the same way. We wanted something that would break away a world where it’s: This is what it is; this is the meaning; this is it. We wanted to bring the bigger world of William’s into the museum, which is the performative world - it’s the humor, and melancholy.”

Foreign Affairs runs until July 16th, and you can see the exhibit “No, It Is!” at Martin Gropius Bau until August 21st.