Contemporary Galleries: 1980–Now

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_Felix in Exile_

William Kentridge. Felix in Exile. 1994

35mm film transferred to video (color, sound). 8:43 min. Edward and Marjorie Goldberger Foundation Fund and The Herbert and Nannette Rothschild Memorial Fund in memory of Judith Rothschild. © 2018 William Kentridge

Artist, William Kentridge: My name is William Kentridge. I'm an artist, and I live and work in Johannesburg, on the Southern edge of Africa.

The films that I make come out of the brutalized society that Apartheid has left in its wake. This film uses a lot of images, which are really forensic photographs of people who died months before South Africa's first Democratic election in 1994. There's a huge amount of violence just in the run-up to the election.

The film title "Felix in Exile" really came from the wordplay that exile and Felix are almost anagrams of each other.

The films start as drawing. Drawing is the heart of all the work. I start with an image that I feel I know, or want to work with. And hope that in the process of making that drawing, other ideas and other images will suggest themselves.

The woman in "Felix in Exile" started off as a very minor part in the film. And as I drew it, her role and importance grew and grew until she in fact became the heart of the narrative of the film. She uses a sextant and a theodolite. The sextant's really for fixing your position and the other is for actually mapping the terrain that you're standing on, and they're about fixing and drawing the landscape. Making a record of here we are now, in this place. The machine that turns and then that clicks is really an old-fashioned seismograph that is monitoring the rumbling and turning of the earth. And insofar as all the people who die in the film get absorbed into the earth, it's part of the history digesting its people, I suppose. And that has to stand in for kind of history in general in the film.

There's a question of people disappearing, of memory disappearing, and how do we hang on to things that we should feel so strongly, but which get weaker and weaker with time? I think that what artists say about the work, one has to take with a big pinch of salt, cause it's always kind of justification after the event. So, my advice to you listening would be to switch off me talking, and rather, watch the film.