The making of each film was the discovery of what each film was. A first image, phrase, or idea would justify itself in the unfolding of images, phrases, and ideas spawned by the work as it progressed. The imperfect erasures of the successive stages of each drawing become a record of the progress of an idea and a record of the passage of time. The smudges of erasure thicken time in the film, but they also serve as a record of the days and months spent making the film—a record of thinking in slow motion.
City Deep is the anticipated 11th film in Kentridge's 'Drawings for Projection', a series of animated films drawn over 30 years, featuring the protagonist Soho Eckstein. South Africa's political transition from the violent years of apartheid to democracy sets the scene for a saga of loss, love, anger, compassion, guilt and forgiveness. The films revolve around the power-hungry mining magnate Soho Eckstein, his wife Mrs. Eckstein and her lover, the solitary artist Felix Teitlebaum. As the story unfolds, Soho's empire crumbles as he comes to terms with his own frailties and the first signs of mortality.
Like previous films in the series, City Deep is grounded within Kentridge's home city of Johannesburg and can be viewed as a counterpoint to the 1990 film, Mine, which depicts images of the deep level mining industry. City Deep extends this depiction to the informal, surface-level 'zama zama' miners of current day Johannesburg. Translated from Zulu as 'try your luck' or 'take a chance', 'zama zama' is the name given to the miners who illegally work decommissioned mines on the edges of the formal mining economy. Manual labour replaces large machines, creating open scars in the Highveld landscape.
In City Deep, the 'zama zama' miners and the landscape merge into artworks hanging in the Johannesburg Art Gallery, itself built during the heyday of gold mining in Johannesburg. Wandering the exhibition spaces is a deeply contemplative Soho gazing at the artworks and into vitrines. Towards the end of the film the gallery collapses in on itself, an imagined demise of an institution in a state of increasing dereliction.
All of Kentridge's films are ambiguous in their final meaning. There is an invitation for a viewer to meet the films half way. To complete the meanings with the associations and memories evoked by the film. In the present context, one of the associations City Deep pushes forward is contemporary iconoclasm, as scenes of colonial monuments and statues being toppled over are spread across the world.
The exhibition will also include drawings from Kentridge's new publication, Waiting for the Sibyl, as well as the third in a series of bronze sculptures, which take the form of a visual lexicon, aptly titled Cursive. The drawings for Waiting for the Sibyl were produced in preparation for the opera of the same name, which premiered at Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in September 2019.
Cursive brings together an accumulation of elemental symbols or 'glyphs' within Kentridge's broader practice. Functioning as a form of a visual dictionary, the glyphs can be arranged in order to construct sculptural sentences, and re-arranged to deny meaning. As Kentridge says, they are a way of weighing one's words.
Press release courtesy Goodman Gallery.