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William Kentridge (above) lends his haunting images to Schubert's song cycle Winterreise, about a traveller moving through a cold and desolate landscape.

Matthias Goerne singing Winterreise.

French artist Daniel Buren imbues his minimalist artistry on the circus form in Cabanons, creating intimate spaces that cater to just 150 audience members

French artist Daniel Buren imbues his minimalist artistry on the circus form in Cabanons, creating intimate spaces that cater to just 150 audience members

Two's a treat

Two renowned visual artists, William Kentridge and Daniel Buren, make their debut at this year's festival with two outstanding works.
14/08/2015 - 05:50

South African images animate music by Schubert


By William Kentridge

(With Matthias Goerne and Markus Hinterhauser, performing music by Franz Schubert)

IN the art world, the name William Kentridge is spoken with awe and deference. For more than three decades, the 60-year-old South African has created powerful art addressing topics such as racism, apartheid and colonialism. These subjects stem from his own experiences living in South Africa with its painful history of racial and economic inequities.

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For the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), Kentridge is providing a backdrop of 24 animated films to accompany the 24 songs in Schubert's masterpiece Winterreise (Winter Journey) which will be sung by the acclaimed Matthias Goerne.

Playing in New York last November, the show received rave reviews. The New York Times said: "(Goerne's) voice is strong, dark and rich. Though he can easily summon chesty power and chilling intensity, he can also bend a phrase with tenderness."

Winterreise, sung in German with English surtitles, tells of a traveller journeying through a cold, bleak landscape. Kentridge has crafted a series of images that allude to the wanderer's journey as well as the larger struggles and sufferings of humankind.

He says: "The project started as a desire to continue my exploration of the relationship between image and sound. We started by listening to the different recordings (of Winterreise) and looking at different fragments of animated films that I had made over the years. And we found an extraordinary rapport between the music and the images. This is partly because the animated films are usually three to five minutes long - about the length of each song.

"There's also something about the piano accompaniment that corresponds to the changing frames of animation and the way the musical rhythm of the person walking through his journey acts as a motor to push the animation. So there was a very strong formal connection."

Winterreise not only details the traveller's journey, it also speaks of the heartbreak he's experiencing after losing the girl he intended to marry.

Kentridge says: "I've allowed various things to come into the film . . . The imagined landscape of Schubert becomes a different landscape imagined by me. The personal and the broader areas shift."

Kentridge has garnered among the highest honours in visual arts and his works are collected by New York's Museum of Modern Art and London's Tate Modern, among others.

He says that although Winterreise is written in 1828 by an Austrian composer and is set in Austria, Kentridge's South African roots continue to form the basis of his images.

He says: "South Africa is vital in all the work that I do. It's a country which has made clear the centrality of contradiction. It's made clear the world as a process rather than as a fact. And what music does also is make us intensely aware, more than any other art form, of living through time and of the change that happens through time. These are inherent within a song, within a line of a song within a phrase, and the song cycle. So South Africa is in my work in the most literal sense - the landscapes, the films, the people in the films, but also in understanding the instability of one's understanding of the world."

Winterreise runs at the SOTA Concert Hall on Sept 4 and 5 at 8pm. Tickets from S$40 to S$120 from Sistic.

As part of a series of free events called SIFA Shares, Kentridge is screening his animated film, 10 Drawings For Projection (1989 - 2011), on Aug 18 at 72-13 at 7.30pm.

Circus tents as objects of art in the Bugis district


By Daniel Buren

(with Fabien & Dan Demuynck and Buren Cirque)

ROLL up, roll up, the circus is coming to town and it's going to be a different experience from what you may be used to. Especially with someone like renowned French minimalist artist Daniel Buren at the helm, the end product is bound to look, sound and feel distinct.

At 77, Buren continues to be a force in the contemporary art world, showing works at recent major art events such as Monumenta and Art Basel.

He's been experimenting with stripes, geometry and colours since the 1960s to posit a simpler aesthetic value, applying his concepts to institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and the Picasso Museum in Paris. His massive red arches tower over Bilbao, Spain, while his striped cylinders grace the Palais-Royal of Paris.

Come September, three coloured cabanon tents designed by him will be pitched on the field next to Tan Quee Lan Street, just opposite Bugis Junction. They're not just circus tents for the acrobats, jugglers and other performers - they are art objects in themselves, designed for one to sit in and contemplate.

Buren says: "I used the circular ring of the conventional circus as a reference around which I designed a conic coloured tent supported by a square built around the ring. We have no pillar in the tent and the space inside is totally free of any obstacle. This cabanon is suspended from outside with a type of striped criss-crossed arch."

The audience, he explains, remains seated in one of the three cabanons while a cast of performers move from one tent to another to deliver their acts simultaneously. Incidental sounds from the neighbouring tents become part of the external soundscape and add to the magic.

Buren says: "The spectators from one cabanon are listening to the applause and laughter of the people in one of the other tents. They know they are not seeing the same thing at the very same time. The succession of each performer in each of the three tents naturally tell a different story in different cabanons."

And because the tents are relatively small - each can hold only 150 people - you get to see the performers up close and focus on their nerves and vulnerability. The experience becomes more intimate than the usual circus experience.

Working with directors Fabien and Dan Demuynck, Buren says many old circus conventions have been abandoned. "We're working in the spirit of the contemporary circus, a new platform for a more experimental type of spectacle. It's not about a succession of clowns, acrobats or extravagant monsters - but the construction of a story which mixes dance, music, acrobats, illusionists, cinema and video in a unique spectacle."

Cabanons will run from Sept 2 - 6 at 8pm at the field opposite Bugis Junction, next to Tan Quee Lan Street. Tickets at S$80 from Sistic.

Daniel Buren is giving a free talk as part of a series titled SIFA Shares on Sept 3, 6.30pm, at Drama Centre Black Box at the National Library. For more information, go to