Fragments of modernity, shadows of the gothic : questions of representation and perception in William Kentridge's "I am not me, the horse is not mine" (2008)

Stuart-Clark, Lucy Bena (2012-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Contemporary South African artist William Kentridge’s experimentation with the visual strategies of European modernism and nineteenth-century optical devices, particularly the fragmented figure and shadow perception, has been well documented in contemporary cultural discourse. It is, however, something for which he is often criticized. In this dissertation I will demonstrate that Kentridge’s enduring interest in European modernism and the processes of human perception are in fact inextricably linked. I will further argue that the significance of this connection resides in that they are both critical visual strategies for exploring the fragmented nature of a postmodern postcolonial subjectivity in a South African contemporary cultural context. Kentridge’s concern with the subjective nature of the construction of knowledge, of the space between seeing and knowing, memory and reality, is a central motif in his art practice and is understood to be a personal attempt to reconcile his present with the past, South Africa’s colonial history with Western history and modernism with postmodernism. Shaped by theories of altermodernity, neomodern anthropology, and the relationship between the observer and ‘the gaze’ in contemporary discourse, my dissertation will thus also argue that Kentridge’s interrogation of the fragmented nature of human subjectivity could be regarded as being ethnographic and Gothic in nature. His multi-channel video installation, I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008), will provide the key visual text for my argument, for it is in this artwork that the inseparability of these concerns are best exemplified, particularly in his experimentation with fragmentation, the Russian avant-garde and shadows. I conclude this research with a discussion of my own creative work, which is a re-imagining and critical investigation of my maternal grandfather’s archive of late eighteenth-century family silhouette portraits. As such, I interrogate notions of subjectivity, human perception and an ‘altermodern’ anthropological quest through a personal lens, in the context of the broader concerns raised by Kentridge’s work.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die kontemporêre Suid-Afrikaanse kunstenaar William Kentridge se eksperimentering met die visuele strategieë van die Europese modernisme en negentiende-eeuse optiese toestelle, veral die gefragmenteerde figuur en skaduwee persepsie, is goed gedokumenteer in die hedendaagse kulturele debat. Dit is egter ook waarvoor hy dikwels gekritiseer word. In hierdie verhandeling sal ek aantoon dat Kentridge se volgehoue belangstelling in die Europese modernisme en die prossese van menslike waarneming onlosmaaklik aan mekaar verbind is. Ek sal verder aanvoer dat die betekenis van hierdie verband daarin geleë is dat albei krities belangrike visuele strategieë is waardeur die gefragmenteerde aard van 'n post-moderne, post-koloniale subjektiwiteit in ‘n Suid-Afrikaanse kontemporêre kulturele konteks verken kan word. Kentridge se besorgheid oor die subjektiewe aard van die konstruksie van kennis, van die ruimte tussen ‘om te sien’ en ‘om te weet’, herinneringe en die werklikheid, is ‘n sentrale motief in sy kuns. Dit word beskou as 'n persoonlike poging tot versoening tussen sy hede en die verlede, Suid-Afrika se koloniale geskiedenis en die Westerse geskiedenis, en modernisme en post-modernisme. My verhandeling is gebaseer op die teorieë van alter-moderniteit, neo-moderne-antropologie, en die verhouding tussen die waarnemer en ‘die staar na’ in kontemporêre debat. Ek neem dus ook standpunt in dat Kentridge se ontleding van die gefragmenteerde aard van die menslike subjektiwiteit beskou kan word as etnografies en Goties van aard. Sy multi-kanaal video-installasie, I am not me, the horse is not mine (2008), sal die sleutel visuele teks in my beredenering wees, aangesien dit is in hierdie kunswerk is dat die onlosmaaklikheid van hierdie verskynsels die beste beliggaam word, en veral ook in sy eksperimentering met fragmentering, die Russiese avant-garde en skaduwees. Ek sluit die navorsing af met ‘n bespreking van my eie kreatiewe werk, wat ‘n herinterpretasie en kritiese ondersoek van my grootvader aan moederskant se argief van die laat agtiende-eeu se familie silhoeët portrette. As sodanig, sal ek, in die konteks van die breë knelpunte wat in Kentridge se werk voorkom, die begrippe van subjektiwiteit, menslike waarneming en ‘n ‘alter-moderne’ antropologiese strewe deur ‘n persoonlike lens ontleed.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/71622
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