New Media Projects: William Kentridge

April 21, 2006—July 9, 2006

William Kentridge’s Felix in Exile and History of the Main Complaint, both set in the artist’s native South Africa, are politically charged critiques of apartheid. Kentridge’s work is distinguished by his intense reflections on the nature of public and private memory, the construction of history, personal and collective responsibility and the shifting nature of identity. In these short animated films, the artist draws, erases and redraws dark images in charcoal, documenting each change, frame by frame, on film. The resulting animations appear and disappear, like spirits, leaving the viewer haunted by the precariousness of human existence.

Felix in Exile and History of the Main Complaint feature two characters—Felix Teitlebaum, the romantic artist/observer, and Soho Eckstein, the wealthy mine owner and land developer. Alter egos of one another and of Kentridge, Felix and Soho embody the disparity between individuals and the social and historical forces within which they are situated. Therein lies the struggle.

In Felix in Exile, Felix has been banished to a sparsely furnished hotel room, the walls of which increasingly become covered with drawings. The maker of these images is an African woman, Nandi. Felix remains isolated in his room, obsessed with Nandi’s drawings, until the drawings become the bond between them. The film ends with Nandi’s tragic assassination and Felix’s subsequent realization of his inability to effectively participate in societal transformation. Through suffering and loss, he discovers he is more isolated than he could ever imagine.

History of the Main Complaint finds Soho hospitalized and in a coma, monitored by an array of highly technological diagnostic equipment. His medical condition seems to have been brought about by the collapse of his capitalist venture. The doctor’s probing stethoscope serves as a metaphor for delving into Soho’s unconscious, the repository of guilty memories. Viewers become party to Soho’s memories as he begins to recall them in his dream-like state. He has witnessed beatings and murders, and when his car strikes a shadowy figure, he is jolted out of his coma. Will this be a transforming, redemptory experience, or will Soho fall prey to the mind’s preference for avoiding unpleasant truths?

William Kentridge, Untitled, drawing for History of the Main Complaint (video), 1996. Charcoal on paper. Courtesy: Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.


NEW MEDIA PROJECTS are a diverse selection of electronic media exhibitions exploring the mysteries of the universe, gender differences, politics, everyday life and humor. This series underscores the formal, technical and expressive capabilities of new media.

The projects consist of three exhibitions of electronic art on view sequentially in Gallery P34. In addition to the gallery installations, the projects include two Friday-evening presentations in Atkins Auditorium.

New Media Projects is jointly curated by Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Leesa Fanning, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

Due to the nature of New Media Projects, guided tours of the individual installations are not available.

New Media Projects is supported by the Campbell-Calvin Fund for special exhibitions.

Midwest Airlines is the official airline sponsor

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