Goodman Gallery presents What Have They Done with All the Air?, an exhibition of new drawings and sculptures by William Kentridge. Works featured form part of a new theatre production in the making, titled The Great Yes, the Great No, in which the artist uses the setting of a boat as a prompt for unpacking power, colonialism and migration. The exhibition opens on the 25th of November 2023 and will run until the 20th of January 2024.
In June 1941 a converted cargo ship, the Capitaine Paul Lemerle, sailed from Marseille to Martinique and this is what inspired The Great Yes, the Great No production. The exhibition features a series of new drawings that are used as backdrops in the performance. There are portraits of the characters of the production The Great Yes, The Great No, as well as imagined scenes from the boat’s arrival in Martinique – an idea of the exotic Caribbean, which is in fact the domestic garden of Kentridge’s Johannesburg studio. Densely packed vegetation is punctuated by fragments of text – phrases such as “the house of justice has collapsed” or “we want no prophets in this garden”. The phrases come from the theatre production and prompt the idea of a drawing being what you read as a text, or a text that, in this case, turns into a garden. With this, Kentridge encourages viewers to think about the words they read and how much of what they read is changed by what they see around what they read.
The exhibition will debut a set of new hand-painted, aluminium and steel sculptures in vivid colour. The origin of these sculptures are a series of small paper sculptures, made from the torn and coloured pages of a 19th century accounting journal from the Chiesa di San Francesco Saverio in Palermo. Though not directly related to The Great Yes, The Great No, this Paper Procession speaks to the process of costume-making. During periods of intensive workshops in the making of a theatre production, Kentridge and his collaborators work with paper as a way to think about costumes, and their colours. Paper collages become proto-costumes, which sometimes become self-standing figures – as with the For Degas puppets which are also shown.
Bringing together these sculptures and drawings, the centrepiece for the show becomes the common point of conception for the work: the act of prototyping with raw materials. This can be seen in the experimental trials of costume design, puppets and props imagined through torn paper, and the cardboard models which can become part of the projection of the performance. Through this process, the building blocks of each new and ongoing project are woven from a common thread.