A fortnight ago I visited the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art on the outskirts of Copenhagen. It was a very last minute decision made when I was already on the train to another destination but life’s like that. Over the 12 years or so that I’ve actively been visiting museums and art collections, the way I appreciate art has changed significantly. In the early days I would try and devour every ‘masterpiece’ in my way- but more often than not this meant that I remembered more or less nothing. These days I really don’t try to absorb anything- I go towards what catches my eye (masterpiece or not) and spend sometime trying to understand what the artist was trying to say.
At the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art I came across some striking artwork by a South African artist called William Kentridge. I’d never heard of this artist before but his technique seemed quite unique- using charcoal to draw and then erase the drawing to draw another painting on the same piece of paper- often filming this for an animation. What really caught my eye was this huge video/ animation installation. With 8 massive screens (total length of about 40 metres) set on three sides of a room- as a viewer you stood in the middle in the dark room and saw the proceedings from one corner of the room through the three sides.
The installation was titled ‘More Sweetly Play the Dance’ and featured a procession of figures crossing the screen from one end to another to the tune of the music played by a band. Most of the characters bear some sort of burden- ranges from musical instruments to dead people to bathtubs to rifles to typewriters and books. On the background is Kentridge’s constantly changing charcoal drawings- drawn, erased, redrawn- a bit like life itself. Most haunting of all is the music itself which accompanies the characters. In contrast to the often grim nature of the procession, the music by the band is often jaunty. (Indeed even after 15 days I cannot get this tune out of my head).
There have been varying interpretations to this artwork. Some liken it to the danse macabre or the dance of death. Some people talk about the trails of refugees leaving troubled homes behind and venturing into new territories. I think the installation just reflects our lives. We all carry our burdens- whether it is memories, guilt from our past or our physical ailments each and every one of us heaves something along with us. And such is the way of life that all of us walk on carrying our burdens in a long procession- some of us dance along the way, some of us don’t.
I was so captivated by the artwork that I didn’t think to take a photo or video but thankfully there were others who did so you can also watch this on youtube (the impact may not be the same but you get an idea) and do try and watch all 15 minutes of it if you can.
Incidentally the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art makes for a great visit because it is set at a fantastic location (even if you’re not a connoisseur of art). It’s a great spot for a picnic and small hikes on a sunny day.
Thinking of great art makes me think back to the first most impressive painting I saw- Le Radeau de la Meduse -at the Louvre. Another painting that could be transplanted to the current times to indicate the plight of refugees hanging on to their lives by a thread in perilous waters. Their lives are shipwrecked and they long for the slightest hope of rescue.