To What End?
World-renowned artist William Kentridge combines drawing, writing, film, performance, music, theater, and collaborative practices to create works of art that are grounded in politics, science, literature and history — all the while maintaining a space for contradiction and uncertainty.
To an extent never before realized, William Kentridge, working with video editor Janus Fouché, has customized his Midnight Moment, To What End? (2019), for the precise dimensions and location of each of the electronic billboards that participate in the program, creating an immersive and various experience for viewers on the sidewalks and plazas of Times Square.
To What End? incorporates text and imagery from a chamber opera Kentridge conceived and created, Waiting for the Sibyl (2019). In his signature film style that captures the act of creating, erasing and revising his images, he animates trees, leaves, birds, Rorschach-like blots, people bearing strange loads, and a central image from Roman mythology — the Cumean Sybil, portrayed as a dancing woman. All these images are hand drawn or painted by Kentridge across the rapidly turning pages of dictionaries and classical literature.
Texts running across the images are taken from the libretto of Waiting for the Sibyl and were originally drawn from a variety of sources, including poems and proverbs from around the world, as well as phrases the artist found in his own notebooks. Each in some way addresses the question: “To what end?”
To What End? alludes to the myth of the Cumean Sibyl, described in Virgil’s Aeneid as a prophetess who wrote fortunes on oak leaves, which would subsequently be scattered by the wind. Even if a visitor could catch a leaf, they would never know if the fortune written on it was their own fate, or someone else’s. The turning pages of Kentridge's animation stand in for Sibyl’s unattainable leaves. The interwoven texts serve as potential fortunes for the viewers in Times Square, exploring the feelings of hope and foreboding that surround the search for one’s destiny.
“Insofar as concern about our future is universal, I hope that there will be some resonance for people seeing the piece, even if the meanings are not explicit. Of course, the invitation to put images in this extraordinary public space, with an unpredictable and diverse audience, is an almost irresistible provocation and a great opportunity.”
To What End? is courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, and is presented by Times Square Arts in partnership with Gallery Met at The Metropolitan Opera on the occasion of its production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, directed by Kentridge and premiering December 27, 2019 through January 22, 2020. Video editing for To What End? is by Janus Fouché.
William Kentridge (b. 1955, Johannesburg, South Africa) is internationally acclaimed for his drawings, films, theatre and opera productions. Kentridge’s work has been seen in museums and galleries around the world since the 1990s. He is the recipient of honorary doctorates from several universities including Yale and the University of London and of numerous awards and honors in recognition of his work. He lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Janus Fouché (b. 1989, Pretoria, South Africa) is a digital artist. He lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Conceived in 2006 by General Manager Peter Gelb and Dodie Kazanjian, the founding director and curator, Gallery Met continues and reaffirms the Metropolitan Opera’s long history of groundbreaking relationships with major visual artists—such as Chagall and Hockney—while fostering new opportunities for collaboration. Last season marked a new program for the Gallery Met initiative, which expanded from its initial ground floor gallery to all corners of the Met’s public spaces, including the Dress Circle level of the opera house, where two monumental new paintings by Cecily Brown, commissioned by the Met, are currently on display and the Grand Tier Terrace, where a new sculpture by George Condo, also commissioned by the Met, dazzles.
Image courtesy of Ka-Man Tse for Times Square Arts.