Thursday, May 19, 2016

The other

A huge screen stretching across a large gallery space and playing across it on a single uninterrupted landscape a riff on the colonial experience. Sound familiar? To those who saw Lisa Reihana’s Transit of Venus (infected) it certainly might seem so, but in fact what we've just described is More Sweetly Play the Dance made by the white South African artist William Kentridge last year. 

His video installation The refusal of time was shown at the City Gallery in Wellington and he is now the subject of a large survey exhibition in Berlin. More Sweetly Play the Dance is the final work in the show and there are certainly intriguing connections to be made with Reihana. Kentridge's work similarly features dancers, performers and musicians in a closed circuit world, but whereas Reihana used early nineteenth century French wallpaper as her backdrop, Kentridge has created a scumbled, eroded, black and white surface with no romantic or historical reference. On this backdrop his characters head purposefully across the screen in a macabre dance of death in contrast to the way time itself seems to draw Reihana's vignettes slowly and imperceptibly across our vision. 

And then there's the action. While Kentridge's procession of African performers enacting those afflicted by disease, disaster and circumstance is legible to a fault, Reihana's characters play out their histories in the self-absorption of Arcadia. Kentridge's most propulsive element is the somewhat overwrought piece's discordant music featuring the same brass instruments the colonial invaders introduced as part of their military regime while Reihana's sound is both more contextual and low key. 

The colonised experience dramatised from two distinct perspectives. Not hard to choose sides.