When you’re in school, you tend not to take seriously what is taught to you. You study it, memorizing it carefully, but it’s not an experience at all, it is only “scholastic material” destined to remain in the “compartmental study”, a small drawer of our memory.
Probably it’s only a mental mechanism, linked to the idea that sometimes we have about education, seen more as an “obligation” than as an “opportunity”.
The same thing happened to me during a cinema course at university. One day, the teacher was talking about a certain William Kentridge in a confusing way, comparing him with George Melies and an art installation from the 2005 Biennale. What stuck after the lesson was only a hazy memory in my universitary mind, more focused on the cocktails in Campo Santa Margherita, than on the courses.
After many years, I ended up in Amsterdam, far from home and from my past education. I went to see a show at the cinema museum.
It happened to be that the artist showing was the certain William Kentridge that had been so overlooked in that afternoon class a few years ago.
His show If We Ever Get to Heaven, can be considered the jewel on the crown of the Eye Museum‘s annual program in Amsterdam.
The exhibition was small, short-lived and comprised only three rooms. Yet it was so intense, it took my breath away.
It’s three-channel video installation was accompanied by a sound so powerful that it could deeply shake the human soul.
The entrance room was filled with human faces made from thick cardboard cutouts, hung on the walls. The meaning behind these highly contoured masked figures, were at first contact, unknown to the visitors.
Then guests are lead into the next room by the sound of music. Upon entering this dark environment, other visitors become silhouettes. With others out of sight, one is left standing just yourself and the installation. A large screen made up of many bright sheets overlapped around us, offering a 360-degree view of the installation.
Thin shadows with Africans profiles followed one after the other in a dreamlike procession across the screen.
The parade is slow but intense. The characters use the same cardboard masks that were displayed at the entrance of the exhibition. With their steps, they trace the beats of an intense melody, half orchestrated, half primitive. The result is a pleasant procession in the New Orleans’ style, in which priests walk together with musicians and agile dancers.
This mix of images and sound draws me into a suspended dimension. The video seduces the eyes from the first moment, it leaves them stunned, in an greedy search of images. The music is so full and vibrant, it makes it virtually impossible to get out of the room: it is a whirlwind of sound that hypnotizes us with its formal perfection. We wished it would never end, we wished we could take it with us, even beyond the museum.
After this visit, I tried to find material on the Internet, to listen to that particular music that won over me again. The only result was a video on YouTube, poor in quality and lacking all the original intensity.
I guess I’ll need to make do with its memory.
I guess I will also have to re-evaluate the material from the film classes that I never really appreciated.
I almost lost the opportunity to discover a great artist and an even greater director.
William Kentridge is a director native of Johannesburg. His works often deal with themes related to colonialism, abuse and the injustices that the African people are forced to endure centuries of history. In his intensely evolving designs, the video director’s soundtracks are characterized by being powerfully effective in their simplicity.