Artist research: William Kentridge, Kara Walker and Ólafur Eliasson

21 February 2017. In her Assignment 5 feedback my tutor suggested I had a look at the way William Kentridge, Kara Walker and Ólafur Eliasson approach the subject of shadows.

During my first OCA course, Drawing 1, William Kentridge (*1955, South Africa) became a great source of inspiration to me. I attempted to make two little animated charcoal/pastel films (Lacher-Bryk, 2015a; Lacher-Bryk, 2015b) after having seen his stunning work. Regarding shadows, I immediately stumbled again upon his “Shadow Procession” (Kentridge, 1999). To me, the walking silhouette figures, each carrying the burden of their personal and collective lives with them, together with the piercing song by Johannesburg street singer Alfred Makgalemele are deeply moving and disturbing. Both reinforce each other, simultaneous attention to both is possible at a maximum. Kara Walker’s (*1969, USA) silhouettes, on the other hand, while like Kentridge’s work focusing on the discrimination of coloured people, appear less subtle and quite aggressive. For that reason her sensitive drawings and paintings have a much greater appeal to me (ART21 “Exclusive”, 2014). Her very own choice of storytelling easily comprehensible, since Walker is of Afro-American descent, but the overt depiction of cruelty acts on me to avoid any more than a superficial contact with her work. In my own work I tried a similar approach in 2014. It took me some time to gather the courage to produce the caricature shown in Fig. 1 below, after the IS (so-called Islamic State) had started doing their horrible business of live executions. When I had finished the drawing, I felt physically sick for several days. The matter is whether an issue is important enough to accept the associated emotions and whether there is any alternative way to transport the message. In the meantime Kentridge has become a great hero and role model of mine in that respect.

head_up_display_03092014_kl
Figure 1. Andrea Lacher-Bryk (2014) “Head-up Display”, ink pen and watercolours on paper. Source: Andrea Lacher-Bryk (2014) [private] via Böse Karikaturen. A head-up display is an efficient communication tool initially developed for military aviation, which allows the projection of data into the pilot’s field of vision. This tool has been refined by the IS (Islamic State). After dispensing with the technical gimmicks the effects are no less than breathtaking.

22 February 2017. Ólafur Eliasson (*1967, Copenhagen) on the other hand, is an architect working globally, who approaches the subject of shadows from his own professional viewpoint. In both his “Multiple Shadow House” (Eliasson, 2010a)  and “Your Uncertain Shadow” (Eliasson, 2010b) he investigates viewer interaction with projected shadows. This very attractive interactive type of display is something I first saw in a children’s technical museum in Vienna twenty years ago. In fact I had coloured shadows on my list for Assignment 5, but discarded the idea for Andersen’s tale. However, in comparison with both Kentridge and Walker I really miss a deeply empotional component in Eliasson’s work on shadows. The presentation is clean and distant, designlike, and a message, if at all, is created on a very personal level by each visitor interacting with his exhibit. His approach raises an interest in me as a natural scientist, but does not yet leave a lasting impression for my work as a developing painter. Maybe later, when I have defined my own goals better.

So, what is there to learn from the above artists for my project? All of them use shadows in a way that enables the viewer to see them as separate entities worth being treated as subjects of their own. None of them combines the source of the shadow (i.e. the object) and the shadow. I doubt whether I would be able to do the same for the purpose of my Andersen story, because then exactly that peculiar connection between the scientist and his shadow would be gone. Since, however, I already completed a finished painting covering the whole story, I will take the opportunity and have a go at a shadow-only approach to serve as a fourth painting as a late addition to Assignment 5.

References:

ART21 “Exclusive” (2014) Kara Walker: Starting Out. [online]. Art21, New York. Availabe at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhByMffG9IA [Accessed 22 february 2017]

Eliasson, Ó. (2010a) Multiple Shadow House [online]. [n.k.]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJGikVnLMGo [Accessed 22 Feburary 2017]

Eliasson, Ó. (2010b) Your Uncertain Shadow [online]. [n.k.]. Available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XANP-XtOnh0 [Accessed 22 Feburary 2017]

Kentridge, W. (2001) Shadow Procession [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: https://vimeo.com/3140351 [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2014) Head-up Display [ink pen and watercolours on paper] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://boesekarikaturen.jimdo.com/political-caricatures/ [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015a) Ghost from the Past [video] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://vimeo.com/150876177 (password: Ghost_from_Past) [Accessed 21 February 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2015b) Hit and Run [video] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: https://vimeo.com/150875189 (password: Hit_and_Run) [Accessed 21 February 2017]

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