Johannesburg is a city in animation
City deep is the newly anticipated film in William Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection. After a nine-year hiatus, the artist gets back to working on his 11th film during the heavy lockdown of 2020. City deep is an animated series that follows the main character, Soho Eckstein. A middle-aged businessman in Johannesburg. As with previous films in the series, City Deep is grounded in the city of Johannesburg and its mining history.
The film revolves around the power-hungry mining magnate, his wife Mrs Eckstein and her lover, the solitary artist Felix Teitlebaum. As the story unfolds, Soho’s empire crumbles as he comes to terms with his own frailties and the first signs of mortality.
In City Deep, the “Zama Zama” miners and the landscape merge into artworks hanging in the Johannesburg Art Gallery. “Gold mining is the basis of the existence of the city Johannesburg,” Said Kentridge. Soho wanders around the exhibition spaces in deep contemplation. He gazes at the artwork and into vitrines. Towards the end of the film, the gallery collapses in on itself. An imagined demise of an institution in a state of increasing dereliction.
“I’m not sure if the gallery in itself is a metaphor for our current times, but it is certainly a description of what’s actually happening in that gallery” Said Kentridge. The artist explains further that the museum forms a huge part of his childhood going into his adult life. It pained him to see it collapse in such a helpless way. “The desperation of a lot of the Zama Zama miners and the importance of the informal economy. People just trying to stay alive in South Africa is a very present element of life here at the moment.”
The films initially started as a record of drawings that I was making. The charcoal drawings came first and the technique of erasure and redrawing was a way of arriving at a static drawing. Then I started filming the process. So the films arrived rather than being decided upon. Today, the drawing technique is still the same [charcoal drawing] but I used a digital camera for the first time for City Deep instead of a 35mm camera. This is partly because of the absence of film stock and laboratories to process film in South Africa. But certainly, all the editing is done on computers.
I’m not interested in the computer doing the animation, in filling in between and using techniques of drawing on a screen—there’s something about the feel of paper and charcoal that is essential, and that a mousepad and a pressure pen or stylus doesn’t begin to approximate. The analogue basis at the heart of it all is essential. It makes it much slower, there’s no doubt, but the length of time it takes to make a film is part of the process of thinking about it—it is an essential element. City Deep probably took six months of drawing and a few months of editing.
Visit the William Kentridge Studio here: https://www.kentridge.studio/