History Written in Charcoal & Sand
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
The video above made its way into my inbox last week, apparently after making the rounds through the rest of the internet. It’s a performance by 24-year-old Ukrainian artist Ksenya Simonove, first prize winner of the TV competition “Ukraine’s Got Talent” in 2009. She creates and transforms her images by manipulating sand on a light box, in this case telling a story from life in the Soviet Union during WWII. From the wet eyes in the audience, Simonove seems to have tapped into a part Ukrainian history that is still emotionally raw for those connected to it.
Simonove’s continually transforming images reminded me of another artist — South African filmmaker William Kentridge. Rather than drawing with sand, Kentridge is known for using charcoal and pastel on paper. But his animations have the same sense of “history.” Rather than using a fresh image for each frame, he continually erases and adds to his drawings to make them come alive on film.
Many of Kentridge’s films also carry with them a painful story from a difficult national history — in this case, apartheid in South Africa. From the Tate Modern’s description of his animation, History of the Main Complaint (video below):
”[History of the Main Complaint] was made shortly after the establishment in South Africa of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was set up to conduct a series of public hearings into abuses of human rights perpetrated during the apartheid era. The hearings, in which individuals told their stories of personal suffering, were held in order to make reparation for abuse and in the hope of creating reconciliation between peoples.
The underlying theme of this film is a (self) recognition of white responsibility. This is played out through a ‘medical’ investigation into the body of Soho Eckstein, the white property-developing magnate and greedy-capitalist protagonist of most of the preceding films, which provides the starting point for a revelation of conscience.”