The title of the piece alludes to the visionary French film pioneer Georges Méliès and his best known film from 1902 about a journey to the moon. Méliès lived a life characterised by illusions and magic. At the age of 27, he bought the magician Robert Houdini’s theatre in Paris, and at a time when film was a brand new genre, he showed moving images as a part of his shows. In 1896, he began to make his own films and although he managed the production more or less on his own with small means in his studio, he created, for that time, breathtaking special effects at ferocious speed. In 1897 he produced 78 films! Bordering on theatre, Méliès’ film-making is reminiscent of Kentridge’s way of moving freely between drawing and camera, rather like a performance artist, while working on his animations. The nine projections can be seen as an homage to Méliès, as well as a self-reflexive piece.
The projections in 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès show Kentridge himself, wandering about in his studio – sometimes happily, sometimes in anguish, waiting for something to happen or be released. In several of the fragments, the work is about to fall apart, but is nevertheless embraced as part of the finished piece. Kentridge consistently uses whatever is at hand and the films are partly characterised by a silent film-like humour. He even directs ants in his studio. Everything seems possible, which is exemplified in a reverse sequence in which the artist’s tools empty a paper of ink, filling them with new potential before the white sheet. In Journey to the Moon, the longer film and Kentridge’s version of Méliès’ film of the same name, he brings the fragments together. The reverse sequences symbolise weightlessness: a sheet becomes a window of a space ship (with the studio constituting its interior), the ants ”draw” the starry sky as they crawl along a trail of sugar solution, and one of the wrecked drawings forms the basis for the lunar landscape.
This manner of relating to his own creating is a central part of Kentridge’s oeuvre. Already in the special animation technique he developed in Drawings for Projection, he openly accounted for his own process. The idea behind filming the drawings step by step was originally not even meant to be an art work, but was born out of an ambition to document the artistic process and the various stages of the work. Kentridge has often mentioned that a drawing may begin well but after a while it loses focus, becomes lame, overworked or cautious. Taking pictures of the drawings during the working process was a simple way of following the work in the studio, in order to retain the first impulse and prevent successful and interesting features from disappearing into smoke, or into the waste paper basket.
But taking an interest in one’s own creative process is also a basic human and existential trait. By extension, Kentridge’s relationship to his own images raises general questions about creating and processes. The fact that everything is constantly being transformed and renegotiated in the drawings reminds us that possibilities exist. But if one has the possibility to create whatever one wants, how does one make a choice? The erasing and the transforming in his animations may be seen as a way of avoiding making a choice, allowing thoughts to travel in several directions at the same time. But here, too, there is another side to it – everything is transient, evasive and uncertain.