William Kentridge: “The Magic Flute”

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Episode #134: In his 2005 production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1791), artist William Kentridge reframes the opera’s original themes of Enlightenment philosophy through the bitter legacy of colonialism. “The most toxic combination in the world is…the certainty of being right and a monopoly of power,” says the artist, who casts the character of Sarastro in the role of a colonial overlord, “a benevolent figure that hides a monster.”

Having witnessed first-hand one of the twentieth century’s most contentious struggles—the dissolution of apartheid—William Kentridge brings the ambiguity and subtlety of personal experience to public subjects most often framed in narrowly defined terms. Using film, drawing, sculpture, animation, and performance, he transmutes sobering political events into powerful poetic allegories. Aware of myriad ways in which we construct the world by looking, Kentridge often uses optical illusions to extend his drawings-in-time into three dimensions.

William Kentridge is featured in the Season 5 (2009) episode Compassion of the Art in the Twenty-First Century television series and the Art21 special, William Kentridge: Anything Is Possible (2010), both on PBS. Watch full episodes online for free via PBS Video or Hulu, as a paid download via iTunes (link opens application), or as part of a Netflix streaming subscription.

CREDITS | Producer: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Susan Sollins. Camera: Bob Elfstrom. Sound: Ray Day. Editor: Mary Ann Toman. Archival Footage Courtesy: Mann Made Media & Theatre de la Monnaie. Artwork Courtesy: William Kentridge. Video: © 2011 Art21, Inc. All rights reserved.

Contributor
Wesley Miller is the associate curator at ART21. Miller co-curates the television series Art in the Twenty-First Century. He is also co-creator of the series New York Close Up.
  1. I’m from the Philippines and I was amazed with the fact that even a Japanese bamboo flute looks simple in appearance but it is actually very difficult to play. I’ve read that if plays by the master this Shakuhachi Flute create an amazing, subtle, sensual music – prized as being perfect for meditation and relaxation. It’s beautiful, soulful sound made that best hear when you are taking a good rest or about to sleep.

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