For South African artist William Kentridge, the drawings he makes should not be taken as typical art objects. Rather than ends in themselves, they are stopgap documents of a greater process. Namely, Kentridge uses the drawings, recorded at various stages of development, to create the mise en scène of his video works. In this way, he simultaneously charts the progress of his drawings while using them much like animation cells. Moreover, his work is deeply narrative; the WEIGHING... and WANTING series from 1997, currently on display at Lewis & Clark's Hoffman Gallery, focuses on the turbulent emotional state of a single character. Not only do these formal and conceptual strategies combine to collapse numerous boundaries—video and drawing, "high" and "low" art—but they also draw viewers further into the world Kentridge depicts.
As the title suggests, WEIGHING... and WANTING explores issues of retrospective assessment and unfulfilled longing. The images and video follow Soho Eckstein, a recurring character in Kentridge's work, as he muses over a failed romance and wanders through a desolate mining region outside Johannesburg, South Africa. In one, he appears alone in a barren field, dwarfed by towering mining structures. In another, Eckstein presses his face into an indiscernible object. One imagines it could be a piece of raw ore—or even the head of his former lover wrapped in a wrinkled bag. This conflation of the mining operation with his act of remembering is a critical juxtaposition. While mining represents a process of boring deeply into the earth to extract something precious, Eckstein's introspection and reflection functions as a parallel. He excavates memories of a love affair in search of an emotional yield. But, in both cases, what is uncovered only stokes an insatiable desire. Kentridge's execution underscores these themes perfectly. Just as Eckstein is helpless to recover or revisit the affair he retraces through memory, the drawings, as static entities, embody this sense of immutability. By contrast, the video, a dynamic and infinitely looping projection, mirrors the insistence of his futile conjuring. Such a powerful synthesis of story and presentation heightens the drama in Kentridge's thoughtful and provocative work.