In the animated charcoal drawing, Medicine Chest (2001), William Kentridge presents a film projected onto the interior of a found bathroom medicine chest, viewed through a pane of tinted glass in the traditional place of the cabinet mirror. A surreal, automatist-like shifting of images plays across the back of the chest; a parade of forms that foregoes plot or character development. Toiletry items - a cup, toothpaste, and soap - metamorphose into a bird, a telephone, a sink, a kitchen cupboard, a window to a barren landscape, a spinning gyroscope, and finally, a portrait of the artist staring into his reflection on the cabinet mirror. Throughout the film, Kentridge invokes the medicine chest as a possible metaphor for repression through routine, banality, and enclosure. Despite the confining small space of the cabinet, transformation still occurs. Kentridge's process is also a reflection of, and commentary on, collective memory. His drawings, gray and smudged, reveal traces of erased forms and altered lines; they speak to the ephemeral and malleable nature of memory.
Looking beyond the common emphasis on social commentary, Kentridge's practice can be broadly defined by its interplay between fantasy and realism. His work could be charted on a lineage with Dada and Surrealism. By conflating animation and object, Kentridge effectively blurs the separation between what is real and tangible and that which is displayed or performed. Kentridge's staging of the film within the confines of a domestic object further emphasizes the theme of human intimacy, a central and grounding concept within his work.
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