Christo­pher Allen

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

Wil­liam Ken­tridge’s work is deeply po­lit­i­cal in its in­ner­most in­spi­ra­tion but not in the sense that it is an­i­mated by facile ide­olo­gies and easy for­mu­las. On the con­trary, the most re­mark­able work in this ex­hi­bi­tion is a bur­lesque yet sin­is­ter and dis­turb­ing satire on the ar­bi­trary vi­o­lence of Joseph Stalin’s regime.

Much less does Ken­tridge in­dulge in iden­tity pol­i­tics. To­day con­tem­po­rary art ex­hi­bi­tions are full of work that is sup­pos­edly ex­plor­ing — code for navel-gaz­ing — the artist’s iden­tity as the mem­ber of some mi­nor­ity, or prefer­ably of two or more mi­nori­ties at once.

This is a phe­nom­e­non that has arisen in the post-po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment of pros­per­ous de­vel­oped economies, start­ing not sur­pris­ingly in the Wil­liam Ken­tridge: That Which We Do Not Re­mem­ber Art Gallery of NSW, Syd­ney, un­til Fe­bru­ary 3. US. The odd thing is that, for all their wealth, these are not so­ci­eties that have abol­ished the gap be­tween rich and poor — in many cases it has grown worse in re­cent decades — but ones in which the poor are ap­a­thetic and the elites and the in­tel­li­gentsia have aban­doned failed utopian vi­sions of equal­ity.

It is above all the univer­sity-ed­u­cated classes who have re­sorted to iden­tity pol­i­tics, partly be­cause of a tribal urge for self-def­i­ni­tion and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion in the bland con­form­ity of con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety, and partly be­cause of the need for self-jus­ti­fi­ca­tion through the de­nial that they are in fact priv­i­leged ben­e­fi­cia­ries of an un­equal sys­tem.

So iden­tity pol­i­tics shifts at­ten­tion away from the real in­equal­i­ties be­tween rich and poor and fo­cuses on il­lu­sory or ex­ag­ger­ated dif­fer-

Wil­liam Ken­tridge’s That which we do not re­mem­ber (in­stal­la­tion view)

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