Every winner has a loser : William Kentridge’s ‘Triumphs and Laments’ on the banks of the Tiber in Rome

What’s not to get passionate about?  – a chance to visit Rome to meet up with a long -time friend and ex-Wits colleague Michael and various of his family. But just as exciting as the idea of spending time in Rome, is the fact that Michael is an art historian and had been asked to write on Kentridge’s latest magnus opus located on the banks of the Tiber.  Triumphs and Laments is Kentridge’s largest public project to date and the largest public art project in Europe. Using his very particular visual language and his technique of creation through erasure (more of that later), Kentridge subverts and questions traditional representations of the historical past. Kentridge who has achieved such international fame (he was named by Vanity Fair in 2013 as one of the six greatest living artists in the world), grew up in Johannesburg and despite his international profile still lives and works in Johannesburg. Given the fame of our Jozi boytjie (how he would hate that appellation!!),  I was surprised on regaling guests on my return, that so few had heard of this colossal project (which really does sit easily with the massive scale of much of Roman public art and ruined remains).

View of 'Triumps and Laments' from across the Tiber with ant-like figures in front of the frieze to show the colossal scale

View of Triumps and Laments from across the Tiber. Ant-like figures in front of the frieze give a sense of the colossal scale. Ponte Sisto is to the left and Ponte Mazzini to the right.

Where and what is Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments?  

Between two bridges across the Tiber (the Ponte Sisto – a 15th century pedestrian bridge) and the Ponte Mazzini (built in 1908) is a relatively straight half-kilometre stretch of the river bounded by a 13 metre high travertine embankment.  It is here that Kentridge’s procession of more than 80 figures, each over 10 metres high has been ‘reverse graffiti-ed’ on the massive western river wall.

Ink Drawings of Death of the film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini on the Kentridge exhibition at Macro (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Rome

Ink drawings of the death of the film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini ; Kentridge exhibition at Macro (Museum of Contemporary Art) in Rome 17/04 – 02/10/2016

Starting with sketches, then charcoal drawings, then ink drawings and small experimental stencils and finally the massive 10 meter-high stencils, Kentridge set his team to work on placing the stencils against the dark polluted limestone walls of the Tiber.  The accretions of grime and ‘traditional’ graffiti were washed away or erased through cleaning, so allowing the silhouetted procession of Kentridge’s iconic figures to emerge – the dark areas of the figures defined by the dirt that remained and the light areas by the parts that had been cleaned. ‘In a few years, the images will fade, so that a new history can be drawn again. It will be sad, but poignant, to watch it dissolve over time.’ (ArtForum.com 21/04/2016)  Part of its meaning and significance lies in its ephemeral nature which is so counter to the permanent materials traditionally used for long-lasting historical monuments.

 

 

The project was officially opened on 21st April 2016 – the 21st April being the apocryphal date of the founding of Rome. The project has been 12 years in the making starting with Tevereterno, a non-profit organization getting permission from the city to work in this downtown section of the Tiber (which they named Piazza Tevere) to create a dedicated public space for contemporary art.   This regeneration and public space project (funded by corporates and private individuals) has been driven by architect Tom Rankin (director of Tevereterno) and Kristin Jones , a New York based artist. In 2005, Jones made Piazza Tevere’s first public art project in the form of a frieze of 10 she-wolves using the same method as Kentridge in his Triumphs and Laments – ie cleaning parts of the limestone so leaving the dirt to form the images.

As its title suggests, Kentridge’s project is no triumphal heroicization of Rome’s grand past,  magnificent deeds and great rulers.  Here a triumphal march meets a carnivalesque ‘ship of fools’.  Kentridge says –  ‘It’s a South African perspective on Roman history that takes into account contradiction, vainglory, utopian idealism, loss. (ArtForum.com 21/04/2016) And “Every triumph and glory is someone else’s lament and shamefulness.”  Kentridge had a team of researchers working for him on this project and they built up a data base of some 500 images from which Kentridge chose 80. There are soldiers, popes, kings, philosophers, martyrs – many of whom are associated with less proud moments of Rome’s history.

Winged Victory at the Ponte Sisto side of the procession

The ‘triumphant’ Winged Victory at the Ponte Sisto side of the procession

Preparatory layout showing placement of figures and measurements with the cracking Winged Victory on the left

Preparatory layout showing placement of figures and measurements with the representation of the  Winged Victory cracking on the left

So symbols of Rome’s glorious past are constantly questioned. For example the winged Goddess Victoria is presented in 3 forms: proud and strong (the first image seen if approaching from the Ponte Sisto); then in the middle of the procession the same figure is shown disintegrating;  &  at the Ponte Mazzini end of the frieze she is represented as being reduced to a pile of rubble .  (There is no beginning and end to this procession of figures, no chronological structure. Images work in fragmented juxtaposition with no coherent narrative.)

 

King Vittorio Emmanuel II on a mock horse and a broken stumbling horse

King Vittorio Emmanuel II on a mock horse and a stumbling horse – sad inversion of the powerful rearing horse in equestrian monuments

Triumphant equestrian monuments find their counter-image in leaders on mock horses. Iconic images from popular culture are conflated with historical events.  References to slave galleons on the Mediterranean are conflated with refugees landing at Lampedusa.  Figures fleeing with menorahs reference Rome’s historical Jewish ghetto close-by on the opposite bank of the Tiber. Many of objects that form part of Kentridge’s familiar iconography become imbued with a particularly Italian connection: the espresso coffee machine; the sewing machine could be a Necchi brand.

Preparatory layout on exhibition at Macro showing positioning of figures in frieze

Preparatory layout on exhibition at Macro showing positioning of figures in frieze

And many of the figures are drawn from art historical sources which have a particular Roman connection such as Michelangelo’s Prophet Jeremiah from the Sistine Chapel; Bernini’s St Theresa in Ecstasy; part of Mantegna’s Triumph of Caesar, originally for the Gonzaga Ducal Palace in Mantua and now in Hampton Court Palace; three figures taken from the Arch of Titus, carrying the treasure of Jerusalem; the Crucifixion of Peter – according to Christian tradition he was crucified (upside down) in Rome by Nero.

The she-wolf who is said to have suckled Romulus and Remus

The she-wolf – central to Rome’s founding myth

Emaciated she-wolf

Sad echo of the nurturer of the founders of Rome

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sugar packet from Caffe Braccio

Sugar packet from Caffe Braccio

 

she-wolf-sculptureAs seen above left, Kentridge has represented the she-wolf (who is said to have suckled the twins Romulus and Remus) with 2 pitchers under her teats.  When we stopped for a cup of coffee at a typical Roman cafe – Caffe Braccio – my colleague Michael pointed with wry amusement to the sugar packet which showed 2 coffee cups under the mythical wolf’s belly!   Just the kind of image that would have sparked Kentridge’s replacing of the founding twins with 2 pitchers!

 

 

Fridge magnet from the gift shop at Macro showing Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg from La Dolce Vita (1960), bathing in a tub instead of the Trevi Fountain.

Fridge magnet from the gift shop at Macro, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome

 

There are iconic images from Italian cinema conflated with historical events and some which are subverted with ironic humour.  One such image is that of  Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg from La Dolce Vita (1960), represented in a bath tub under a shower instead of in the Trevi Fountain. Delicious in its irreverence!

We were fortunate enough to see the exhibition with works related to Triumphs and Laments  at Macro (Museum of Contemporary Art) – on show from 17/04 – 02/10/1916. On exhibition was a film of Kentridge talking about the project; a short video on the actual making; some of the sketches; some images that are not used in the final work; a plan to scale of the exact layout with placement and proportions of all the figures in the colossal frieze; and some of the cut-outs used in the live procession at the opening performance on 21st April. What a complete treat this was.

 

 

Stencils of various images (some not used in the final work)

Stencils of various images (some not used in the final work)

Ink drawings on show at Macro

Ink drawings on show at Macro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kentridge is no stranger to the process of creation through erasure. In his early animated films (the Felix and Soho series), he makes a drawing, films it,  erases parts of the drawing and makes changes, and films it again (each change gets from ¼ second up to a couple of seconds of screen time).  In this way a single drawing is altered and filmed to produce a moving image.

Kentridge poster in sitting room at Liz at Lancaster

Kentridge poster in sitting room at Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Similarly using cut-outs have long been part of Kentridge’s visual language. The nearest I can get to owning a Kentridge image is an exhibition poster from a 2000 exhibition in Sydney which hangs in the guest lounge at Liz at Lancaster!  The cut-out images in this poster such as the bent figure carrying a burden on his/her back;  the maimed figures; and the shower head – all reappear as part of the visual language in Triumphs and Laments.  Kentridge also often uses cut-outs in shadow processions as back drops to live theatre, in his operas, and along with shadows of live actors and dancers in multi-screen film installations such as the recent installation Notes Towards a Model Opera at Goodman Gallery .

 

FireWalker Johannesburg

FireWalker Johannesburg

And one of Jozi’s iconic public sculptures is Kentridge’s Firewalker installed at the end of Queen Elizabeth bridge as one enters Joburg CBD proper. Here metal plates replace torn pieces of black paper and form a 3D image which only coalesces into coherence when viewed from a particular viewpoint.
st-peters-sunset-from-castel-st-angelo-bridgeI cannot believe just how privileged I was to have been able to see Triumphs and Laments which, because of the medium, is ephemeral and transitory; to have had the benefit of Michael’s knowledge and insights in the reading of the images; and to have experienced the sublime location, context and scale of this monumental work on the banks of a beautiful river in the quite extraordinary city of Roma. Unforgettable!

My one sadness is that this public art project which is part of a regeneration project aimed at enlivening and revitalizing a public space, seemed to go largely unnoticed by locals (joggers and cyclists) and tourists alike. The latter were focused on taking selfies on the Ponte Sisto against the backdrop of St. Peter’s in the distance.

 

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Department of Tourism – Lilizela 2016 Awards

In the Spotlight!

Minister Derek Hanekom, Tagala Mlalazi, Catherine Mahlangu accepting the Provincial Winner 4 Star Guesthouse Award at Gold Reef City

Minister Derek Hanekom presenting  Tagala Mlalazi and Catherine Mahlangu of Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse with the Provincial Winner 4 Star Guesthouse Award at Gold Reef City 22nd Sept 2016

As the year races past it is already October and past the time for the Department of Tourism’s Lillizela Gauteng awards.  And  …. Drum … Roll… Trumpets … Liz at Lancaster did it again:

Lilizela Accommodation Award 2016 – Top 4 Star Guesthouse in Gauteng – Liz at Lancaster

Earlier on that Provincial Award afternoon Tagala Mlalazi and

Catherine Mlalazi Manager Housekeeping at Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Catherine Mahlangu Manager Housekeeping at Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse at 2016 Lilizela Awards dinner

Catherine Mahlangu, General Manager and Manager Housekeeping respectively, were considering what to wear and wondering if we had won anything! Just in case there was reason to celebrate they decided that Uber’ing would be the best way to get to Gold Reef City and back.

What it takes to win a Lilizela Award

The following morning in a gap after breakfast,  everyone was feeling very pleased with themselves and reflecting on what it takes to keep guests happy – which is the essence of winning awards! The attention to detail, preparedness, cleanliness, listening to guests and their requests, anticipating their needs and having a genuine interest in them and their travels, are all crucial to service excellence.  And we should not forget Alick our amazing gardener who relates to all our guests by talking to his plants (and his secret recipe – worm wee from our worm farm! More on that at another time). The flowering plants are a source of constant comment. Nor should we forget Thandie who sees to the birds that visit the bird table so that at all at breakfast enjoy watching from the breakfast patio.   It’s a wonderful start to a busy day.

Lilizela Accommodation Award 2016 – Top 4 Star Guesthouse in S.A.   – The Three Boutique Hotel

Liz attended the National Awards ceremony at the Sandton Convention Centre with Nico and Lené Fourie, guests at Liz at Lancaster, whose Guesthouse – 75 on Milner in Kimberly – just happened to be the Lilizela Accommodation Award Winner 2016 for the Northern Cape!

The Three Boutique Hotel Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background

The Three Boutique Hotel Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background

Right from the entrance – where we were met by black and gold dressed greeters who directed us to the cocktail and canapes, to the banqueting hall with tables covered in candelabras, king and pin-cushion proteas, strelitzia and arum lilies, along with gleaming glasses and white and black plates – it was all a visual feast!

The winner – The Three Boutique Hotel in central Cape Town – is a stunning beautifully restored historic building with 18 rooms.  Liz and Lené wondered how do we compete with that plus a roof deck with panoramic views of Table Mountain and Cape Town City !

Lilizela Accommodation Awards 2016 – Gauteng winners at national level

There were two Gauteng provincial level winners who made it at the national awards – in the Backpackers category – Curiocity Backpackers and Events and Venue category – The Forum The Company . Congratulations to two great tourism contributors – well done Gautengers!

Lilizela Minister of Tourism Overall Award 2016 – Esther Mahlangu Cultural Guide

Esther Mahlangu being interviewed at the Lilizela Awards

Esther Mahlangu being interviewed at the Lilizela Awards

This award given at the discretion of the Minister of Tourism which goes to:

Esther and the BMW design

Esther and the BMW design

“a proudly South African business or personality, that sets the tourism benchmark not only in our country, but also globally”, went to Esther Mahlangu under the category of Cultural Guide – perhaps an underestimation of her contribution to South Africa’s image.  She is the grand dame of Ndebele design with her work reaching the international market when she added her creative finishes to the BMW 525i Sedan in 1991.  In 2016 she has again become involved in a BMW project, painting Ndebele patterns on the real wood interior trims of a BMW 7 series, shown for the first time at the Frieze Art Fair (5- 9 October) in Regent’s Park, London.  This car now takes pride of place at South Africa: the Art of a Nation, a major exhibition currently showing at the British Museum  from 27 October 2016 – 27 February 2017

The Lilizela award evening from initial entrance to chicken starter to decadent chocolate, crooning saxophones, uplifting solo and all the rest, was a thoroughly enjoyable event! Planning and hoping to be there next year!

 

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If power goes off, Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse has light!

Solar Lantern by Consol Glass. Photo: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Solar Lantern by Consol Glass. Photo: Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Whether its load shedding, power failure or un-notified “scheduled” maintenance, unexpected ‘lights out’ can happen on occasions.  This gives us an added challenge here at Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse with some foreign guests not always able to follow written directions in English and others just annoyed by the lack of power. However we smooth the path with simple signs and battery backup for WiFi (today’s essential)!

Then along came an item that not only provided magical light but also an intriguing conversation point that delighted our guests. We have even sold some directly to a guest or two. This was the Consol Preserve Bottle Solar Lamp. It brought a solution and conversation point of SA ingenuity and just plain admiration for a simple every day item being put to such a useful end in a very attractive way. It really hits the “green” button (in more ways than one) with our guests.

We needed more of them and some required replacing as they had run their life time course. On unpacking them back at the guesthouse, everyone – to a bottle – did not work. They went on for 30 seconds then off, then flashed once or twice then permanently off. Pity … loaded them all up ready to return them under warranty.  However as one always does on these occasions – we decided to read the instructions!

Neat solar lighting at Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

Neat solar lighting at Liz at Lancaster Guesthouse

The Consol Solar Lamp has some neat new features.   In the event of sudden darkness it  lights up automatically and stays on for a bit so you can find it in the dark.   If you need it to shine for longer periods (can go up to 12 hours on a single charge) you simply flip the switch over manually. Very neat!  This can be a way to provide light to a dark path or corner which gets some sun to charge the lamp during the day.  And guess what ? In the unlikely event of it being a cloudy day, there is even a USB charging feature. These are all clear indicators of major product development – well done Consol Glass!

We also discovered the quick little flashes, that appear after it has turned itself off, tell you how much charge there is in the battery:

  • 5 flashes battery is full
  • 4 flashes battery is three quarters full
  • 3 flashes battery is half full
  • 2 flashes battery is quarter full
  • 1 flash battery is almost empty

And the instructions were not even difficult to follow and the lamps are all actually working perfectly!

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