William Kentridge: I am not me, the horse is not mine

3 out of 5 stars
William Kentridge: I am not me, the horse is not mine
© William Kentridge I am not me, the horse is not mine (His Majesty Comrade Nose), video still from installation, 2008

Combining live action, animation, puppetry, and photomontage, William Kentridge's films have always harked back to an age of pre-digital experimentation – so his current turn towards the motifs of early Soviet modernism makes a lot of sense. These six, absolutely gigantic projections are more an elegy, than a celebration, for the way that such avant-garde forms and revolutionary sentiments became diminished through populism and Stalinist paranoia.

Various constructivist shapes whirl and dance across the Tanks' walls, old Soviet film footage is manipulated and the transcript from the trial of soon-to-be-purged politician, Nikolai Bukharin, is ominously relayed (and from which stems the work's title, a Russian peasant adage to deny culpability).

There is an awful lot happening at once in these films. It helps to know that Kentridge made them as part of his preparation for an operatic adaptation of Gogol's famously absurdist short story about an apparatchik's nose that develops a life of its own. Hence the recurring theme of noses as giant cavorting cutouts or as marks obliterating photographs of political dissidents. Hence also the films not quite holding together as a finished work.

Still, there are plenty of wonderful individual sequences, from the long, puckish shadow cast by a manically prancing Soviet soldier to Kentridge's trademark mechanoid puppet creatures, marching past in moody silhouette. The musical score, too, is hugely atmospheric, by turns demented and lugubrious it eventually segues into chanting sounds from Kentridge's native South Africa, so that the concluding sense is of political repression giving way to hope and progress.

THE BOTTOM LINE Dramatic, Soviet-themed shadow plays that don't quite hang together as a whole.


Event website: http://www.tate.org.uk
2 people listening