William Kentridge

Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City after Paris


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Not on display

William Kentridge born 1955
Film, 35 mm, shown as video, projection, black and white, and sound (mono)
Duration: 8min
Presented by the Patrons of New Art through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1998


Kentridge makes short animation films from large-scale drawings in charcoal and pastel on paper. Each drawing, which contains a single scene, is successively altered through erasing and redrawing and photographed in 16mm film at each stage of its evolution. Remnants of successive stages remain on the paper, and provide a metaphor for the layering of memory which is one of Kentridge's principal themes. The films in this series, titled Drawings for Projection (see Tate T07483-5 and T07479-81), are set in the devastated landscape south of Johannesburg where derelict mines and factories, mine dumps and slime dams have created a terrain of nostalgia and loss. Kentridge's repeated erasure and redrawing, which leave marks without completely transforming the image, together with the jerky movement of the animation, operate in parallel with his depiction of human processes, both physical and political, enacted on the landscape.

Johannesburg the Second Greatest City after Paris is the first in this series, and was made from twenty-five drawings. The sound-track includes music by Duke Ellington. It introduces the viewer to the characters central to most of Kentridge's subsequent films in the series. Soho Eckstein is a prosperous Johannesburg property developer, equally indifferent to the well-being of his workers and the emotional needs of his wife. He is portrayed frontally, wearing a pinstripe suit, sitting behind his desk where he guzzles food and drink, or stares bleakly at the destroyed terrain of the mining landscape. In contrast Felix Teitelbaum, Soho's alter-ego, appears nude, seen from behind, gazing into the landscape. His water-soaked, sexual fantasies of Mrs Eckstein contrast powerfully with the aridity of Soho's business, and with the faceless crowds of African miners who advance and retreat on the edges of Soho's world. The title of this film is ironic: the wasteland it depicts, in the land and in the emotional relationship between Soho and his wife, is the result of the growth of Soho's power, crudely analogous both to colonialism and to capitalism. Made just at the time when international pressure on South Africa to abolish apartheid had reached its greatest intensity, the film is a reminder that western societies were once built on similarly inhumane principles. Kentridge's multiple layers of complicity and responsibility allow for no simple readings.

Further reading:
Dan Cameron, Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, J.M. Coetzee, William Kentridge, London 1999, reproduced (colour) pp. 51-2, 54-5
Carolyn Cristov-Barkagiev, William Kentridge, exhibition catalogue, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels 1998, pp.42-9, reproduced p.8, (detail) p. 41, (colour) pp.44-5, 47, 49

Elizabeth Manchester
February 2000

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