There were many works of art by William Kentridge that were being displayed at the Norton Museum of Art during my visit. The museum was showcasing an exhibit entitled, "William Kentridge: Five Themes." Many of his works, upon first glance, would confuse most viewers. As I worked my way through the display, I soon connected certain pieces of art with their appropriate meanings. Around halfway through the showcase, I came across a small collection of seven videos which were called The Seven Fragments for Georges Méliès. The Seven Fragments for Georges Méliès by William Kentridge seemed to show a strong resemblance to some of the works by Nam Jun Paik, a key figure in the development of television art.
The political content and distinctive techniques of Kentridge's work have propelled him into the realm of South Africa's top artists. Working with what is, in essence, a very restrictive media, using only charcoal and a touch of blue or red pastel, he has created animations of astounding depth. A theme running through all of his work is his peculiar way of representing his birthplace. While he does not portray it as the militant or oppressive place that it was for black people, he does not emphasize the picturesque state of living that white people enjoyed duringapartheideither; he presents instead a city in which the duality of man is exposed. Not only inThe 7 Fragments, but also in all of his animated works, the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme. He conveys it through his erasure technique, which contrasts with conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. This he implements by drawing a key frame, erasing certain areas of it, re-drawing them and thus creating the next frame. He is able in this way to create as many frames as he wants based on the original key frame simply by erasing small sections. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer; as the films unfold, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed. Kentridge's technique grapples with what is not said, what remains suppressed or forgotten but can easily be felt.
In 1985, Kentridge co-founded Free Film-makers Co-Operative in Johannesburg. In 1999, he was appointed a film-maker by Stereoscope. Kentridge writes, "My drawings don't start with a beautiful mark, thinking about the activity ofprintmakingas being about getting the hand to lead the brain, rather than letting the brain lead the hand. It has to be a mark of something out there in the world. It doesn't have to be an accurate drawing, but it has to stand for an observation, not something that is abstract, like an emotion."
In almost all of Kentridge's works of art we can see the influence of Nam June Paik. Nam June Paik was a composer, performer, and video artist and he played a pivotal role in introducing artists and audiences to the possibilities of using video for artistic expression. His works explore the ways in which performance, music, video images, and the sculptural form of objects can be used in various combinations to question our accepted notions of the nature of television. Paik may have pioneered a new form of art by using television's representation of certain images to portray ideas inside of his head. In one of Paik's better known works of art he takes multiple televisions and arranges them into the form of a cello. This was then used in a show were a performer began to feign playing a cello, which was actually a television made in the shape of a cello. Once turned on, the television began to play recordings of an actual cello performance. This idea/work of art may have influenced Kentridge with his original works of art.
Growing up in Korea, Nam June Paik studied piano and composition. During the moves his family made between Hong Kong and Japan, he continued his studies in music while completing a degree in aesthetics at the University of Tokyo. After graduating, Paik went to Germany to pursue graduate work in philosophy. There he became part of a group of Fluxus artists who were challenging established notions of what constituted art. Their work often found expression in performances and happenings that incorporated random events and objects that they could fit into their works.
As broadcast television programming invaded the culture, Paik began to experiment with ways to alter the video image. In 1963 he included his first video sculptures in an exhibition,Exposition of Music--Electronic Television.Twelve television sets were scattered throughout the exhibit space. The electronic components of these sets were modified to create unexpected effects in the images being received. Other video sculptures followed.Distorted TVused manipulation of the sync pulse to alter the image. Magnet TV used a large magnet which could be moved on the outside of the television set to change the image and create abstract patterns of light. Paik began to incorporate television sets into a series of robots. The early robots were constructed largely of bits and pieces of wire and metal; later ones were built from vintage radio and television sets refitted with updated electronic components.
Some of Paik's video installations involve a single monitor; others use a series of monitors. InTV Buddhaa statue of Buddha sits facing its own image on a closed-circuit television screen. ForTV Clocktwenty-four monitors are lined up. The image on each is compressed into a single line with the lines on succeeding monitors rotated to suggest the hands of a clock representing each hour of the day. InPositive Eggthe video camera is aimed at a white egg on a black cloth. In a series of larger and larger monitors, the image is magnified until the actual egg becomes an abstract shape on the screen.
Nam June Paik pioneered the development of electronic techniques to transform the video image from a literal representation of objects and events into an expression of the artist's view of those objects and events. In doing so, he challenges our accepted notion of the reality of televised events. His work questions time and memory, the nature of music and art, even the essence of our sensory experiences. Most significantly, perhaps, that work questions our experience, our understanding, and our definitions of "television."
Even though William Kentridge's works of art may seem amazing, and though they may be inspirational, he is not the first to use the concept of using television and video art and making masterpieces through it. His ideas of making the screen a moving canvas that could change and become a movie were not the first. However, he was the first famous charcoal artist to live in South Africa and demonstrate the racial complexities of the areas in which he lived. Kentridge also is one of the most recognized artists to come out of South Africa. Although he may not have created the genre of television art, his work will surely be recognized as an inspiration for future artists and art connoisseurs for generations to come.