William Kentridge’s mood and creative sensibility shifts easily. His angle of vision is broad and somewhat quirky (in a good way).
Characteristically, Kentridge likes multiples of images, each a variation on the fluctuations of reality. Sometimes he makes triptychs, other times diptychs as in the Picnic/Panic etchings produced for Sleeping on Glass (1999). For the diptych Picnic/Panic, Kentridge contrasted cups and saucers on the facing pages of text taken from different chapters in The Principles of Electronics. One version has the legend Panic on the right and Picnic on the left above the cup and saucer. The other version has the legend Picnic on the left page and Panic on the facing page. Which of these versions precedes the other is unknown. It’s like trying to figure out which comes first, or some order of importance that cannot be resolved—and there are sixty multiples of this series. Ward Mintz, the curator, playfully suggests that Kentridge’s title might explain his moods, or which side of the bed he might get up from, or the powerful effect of alliteration.
There is a serious motive suggesting the political turmoil of Kentridge’s native South Africa. During an interview with Peter Burchett, Kentridge said that he “never intended to make illustrations of apartheid,” but that some of his works are “spawned by and feed off the brutal society left in its wake.” The Picnic/Panic series seems one of those works that suggests the unfortunate oppressive history of apartheid during which time South Africa was a land of picnic for Whites and a land of panic for Blacks. Though the Apartheid laws were repealed in 1991 and there were open elections in 1994, the political situation fluctuated during the period of reconciliation after. Kentridge is registering these fluctuations from picnic to panic as if it were an electric current registering on a meter.
The cups look empty, but who knows?
Featured Image: William Kentridge. “Picnic/Panic” (1999), etching and crayon on chine chine collé
See: William Kentridge. Sleeping on Glass (1999); Fiona Godfrey. “William Kentridge as printmaker,” Universal Archive. London: Southbank Centre; http://issuu.com/aberystwytharts/docs/kentridge_education_pack_final; Peter Burchett, http://vimeo.com/13210477