Waiting for the Sibyl
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Waiting for the Sibyl

Lia Rumma Gallery is pleased to announce Waiting for the Sibyl and other histories: the new solo show by the South African artist William Kentridge, who consolidates his over-twenty-year relationship with Italy and the gallery.

Waiting for the Sibyl is the title of Kentridge’s most recent project, commissioned by Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, which had its worldwide premiere last September as a companion piece to Work in Progress (1968), the only stage work conceived by the US sculptor Alexander Calder. Inspired by the movement and by the rotation of Calder’s artworks, Kentridge evokes the priestess mentioned by Dante: the Cumean Sibyl, who used to write her prophecies for people’s destinies on oak leaves. The leaves at the mouth of her cave were scattered by the wind, confusing the destinies of those who came to fetch them. This image becomes a symbol of uncertainty and of time that flows, mutates and returns.

In the eponymous video, shown for the first time in this exhibition (displayed on the ground floor of the gallery alongside preparatory drawings), the contemporary Sibyl has been portrayed as an African dancer. The figure dances against book pages, to jazz music composed by Kyle Shepherd and vocal compositions by Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Drawings in Indian ink describe trees with black branches and leaves that mutate and change. Kentridge notes that the contemporary equivalent of the Sibyl is the algorithm, which relentlessly predicts our fate. In contrast the drawings, some made on pages from Danté’s Divine Comedy, show trees, leaves, animated objects, coloured geometrical forms and dancing silhouettes in mutation. They bring new life and humanity to the attempt of discovering our own fate and to the feelings of fear and anxiety that result from it.

On the first floor, the small set of bronze sculptures, like Lexicon (2017) and Paragraph II (2018), or the steel and aluminium sculptures titled Leaf/Ampersand (2019), and Returning Leaf (2019), consist of elements and signs supposedly static and suggestive of typographical fonts. As in the videos and drawings, they present different images according to the perspective chosen by the viewer. The charcoal Processione di Riparazionisti drawings were sketches made for the steel silhouettes of the monumental work of the same title conceived for the OGR in Turin. Presented here too is a series of maquette-sized figures in profile-cut steel, of the same procession. The works are dedicated to those who were employed in the profession of fixing trains in that site. The appearances of working women, men and machines, which are rigid but at the same time suggest movement and dynamism, remind us of our industrial history, of the working migration towards the North and of human fatigue: all themes dear to Kentridge.

The second floor of the Gallery is reserved for the immersive video installation titled KABOOM! (2018), adapted from the acclaimed theatrical production The Head & the Load, that premiered at the Tate Modern in 2018 and that tells the story of almost two million African people recruited by England, France and Germany during the First World War in Africa. By exploring personal and collective memory and by using the recurring topos of procession, Kentridge assembles dynamic layers of drawings, texts and moving images. ‘The Head & the Load is about Africa and Africans in the First World War. That is to say about all the contradictions and paradoxes of colonialism that were heated and compressed by the circumstances of the war. It is about historical incomprehension (and inaudibility and invisibility). The colonial logic towards the black participants could be summed up: ‘Lest their actions merit recognition, their deeds must not be recorded.’ The Head & the Load aims to recognise and record." — W.K.

The exhibition is available by appointment.

Waiting for the Sibyl

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